How one local restaurateur is finding a way to thrive even in the midst of a quarantine
By Fern Corraini
At kilometer 14 on the bay side of the highway in El Centenario, you will find a popular local restaurant named for its location: KM 14. Pre-COVID, KM 14 was a community hangout where expats and local Mexicans enjoyed good food and drink in a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. Today, however, my car sits oddly alone in the parking lot. The patio is empty of tables and chairs. There’s no music, no laughter, no dancing.
Wait, let me amend that: there may be no music, but there is certainly laughter. True to form, Chef Jorge Aguirre steps outside to welcome me with a giant grin and a “Happy as a hippo!” response to my “Como estas?”. The sweet thing about his familiar refrain? He means it!
KM 14 is a family restaurant run by Jorge and his wife, Vanessa, whom he calls his angel and concedes is the brains, eyes and ears of the operation. Before La Paz’s restaurants closed due to the COVID-19 quarantine, KM 14 was open 7 days/week with a full menu, plus 2-3 special menu nights. Locals loved to stop in to eat, drink, listen to live music, and shoot the breeze with Jorge. Victoria, their 6 year-old daughter, might venture by your table to say hello, and her dog, Lucas, knows most of the customers by smell.
So how is it possible that in the midst of a pandemic that has seen local restaurants everywhere closing their doors, Jorge is “happy as a hippo,” indeed, happier than he’s ever been? It’s all about attitude. Jorge is a positive guy by nature, and even in these strange times, he’s positively shining. He simply loves the restaurant business, and he was made for it: he’s gregarious, funny and intent on making sure all of his customers are happy.
When dine-in options stopped due to the quarantine, Jorge and his family rapidly adapted, changing the model of the restaurant from dine-in to takeout. Today he serves his community, while protecting the health of his family and customers, by offering take-out meals two days a week: on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
His biggest sellers are his incredible steaks, his beloved baby back ribs, and popular chicken and shrimp fajitas. But, he doesn’t stop there. He loves to get creative with specials like fresh-caught fish in cilantro sauce, and with innovative takes on old favorites like pasta, burgers and shrimp. Now and then, he even has a special night where he’ll whip up his take on Indian or Thai dishes. His apple chimichurro desserts are also a cult favorite.
To let his customers know what’s coming that week, Jorge has built a large following on Facebook. He publishes the week’s menu in advance, and the orders immediately start pouring in. Judging from the overwhelmingly positive comments, it’s all delicious.
Of course, being Jorge, he’s found yet another way to serve the local community through food. Every Tuesday, the Centenario Organic Market (featured in our May newsletter) uses KM 14’s parking lot as their delivery venue for weekly veggie boxes from a local farm. Jorge takes this opportunity to also offer local ingredients for pickup, including cleaned and deveined shrimp, fresh-caught fish, and bacon from our local Bacon Guy. Customers order in advance by the kilo, and when they arrive to pick up their veggie boxes, Jorge brings their orders safely and conveniently right to the car: one-stop shopping without leaving your car!
Jorge was born and raised in Mazatlan, and at 19 years of age he started his restaurant education by working as a pantry boy at Senor Frog’s. He refers to his many years there as his “university”. It taught him the value of teamwork in providing more than just good food. He learned about meeting and exceeding expectations, how to read people, and, most importantly, that the restaurant business is like show business. It’s a show, and you always have to be on point.
During our interesting chat, Jorge was his usual passionate self, but also calm and philosophical. He says that he used to be a “machine gun”, expelling his energy at anything that moved. But, his 30 years in the biz have taught him that if he focuses on the positive side of life’s ledger, the negative side automatically diminishes. (Hmm…a visual that makes perfect simple sense. Thanks, Jorge.)
“This is my dream. I have everything I need,” he flashes his broad smile, and you can see he means it. He’s grateful: for his wife Vanessa’s unconditional support, and for the ability to spend more time with her and Victoria. He is grateful, too, for his loyal family of customers, even (especially!) the quirky ones, and he can’t say enough good things about the caring community of El Centenario.
When our interview ended, I realized I was happier than when I had arrived. Without the benefit of a margarita or a full belly, Jorge had chased my COVID blues away. I left KM 14 vowing to be more positive and aiming for “happy as a hippo”. Thanks, Jorge.
For more information and to contact the restaurant, visit KM 14 on Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/km14centenario/
Fern Corraini is a veteran traveler and explorer who moved to La Paz from Canada fourteen years ago and is happy to call Mexico home. In addition to her international travels, Fern has been an English teacher in Canada and Guadalajara, a customs officer, a beekeeper, a sandblaster, a travel rep in the Dominican Republic and a motel owner. When she’s not busy keeping Baja Life Realty organized as our administrator, Fern loves to cycle, visit the beach and spend time with her two rescue kitties. She loves La Paz and firmly believes that the taco is the perfect food.