Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Success Story

Whenever I interview someone for a story, I'm never exactly sure what the 'angle' will be---what the real story will be. I knew this would be about La Herradura and about Juan Pablo Sanchez and his wife, Magdalena (Maggie) who operate the restaurant along with Juan's sister, but I found that this story is more about opportunity and gratitude, and struggles and success.

Juan was born (one of three children) in Ciudad Jimenez in the state of Chihuahua, Mexico. He is the son of a farmer/rancher who also ran a small, family grocery store. It's obvious that Juan is a natural-born salesman---from the time he was very young, he helped out in his parent's store. He says, "I like all kinds of business...I sell cars, horses, I like it a lot."

Juan first came to Omaha, Nebraska in 1998 at the age of 19, where he and his uncle worked in construction. Juan met Maggie at a Rodeo dance (she has a good story) and they later married and moved to O'Neill. He says, "When I came to O'Neill, I did not speak much English and it was very hard." He began working at Herd Co in Bartlett, Nebraska, in a supervisory position as a cowboy. After a year and eight months, he received a promotion (his second) -- he had proved to be invaluable in translating English for his fellow workers.

At this time, Maggie was working at 21st Century Growers (in O'Neill) and she suggested that Juan open a small place to sell tacos and burritos. Juan saved his money and opened a small eatery, however, it closed sometime later. By this time, Maggie was expecting and was unable to continue to work. Being the 'strong woman behind her man', she urged Juan to open another, larger restaurant. Investors stepped forward, and 'La Herradura', with it's extensive menu, opened for business in 2005. Maggie does the cooking---delicious authentic Mexican family recipes---Juan's sister helps out, and Juan is the waiter.

Towards the rear of the restaurant, and through a doorway, is Juan and Maggie's small, Mexican grocery store. (It can also be accessed from the east side of South 4th Street). Juan stated that to obtain authentic Mexican foods, the Hispanic population had to travel to Norfolk or Grand Island, and since not many of the people have a car, it was a hardship and inconvenience. Now, Juan travels to Omaha every two weeks or once a month to purchase items for the store. The store is quite unique, carrying everything from pinatas to pickled pigs feet. With great pride, he showed the various varieties of peppers, dried shrimp (and fresh frozen shrimp), tostados, fresh cow cheese, laundry detergent, and even Coca-Cola in bottles. Juan says the store is "good for the Mexican people."

Juan appreciates the fact that their children (two boys and two girls) can walk to the pool, park, or play with friends and feel safe. He said, "I like it here in O'Neill." His dream is to someday own a small farm or ranch (he owns five Quarter horses that are pastured south of town). As for his love of business, he plans to open another restaurant in Omaha and hopefully one in his hometown in Mexico.

Maggie, who uses her hands and eyes quite expressively when she speaks, came from a very poor background. She was born in the town of Autan, in the state of Nayarit, Mexico. The family (she has three brothers) home was built of tree limbs with a cardboard roof, and sheets of plastic to cover the roof and walls. The floor was dirt, but, "very clean". It was not unusual for her family to go hungry, and since her parents were very old, she felt that she must come to the United States to find work and ultimately to help her parents. She relates the story of when she was attending school in Mexico, her mother would not have the money for Maggie to take the bus. Maggie's little brother would go to the train station across the street and shine shoes to earn her bus fare.

In 1992, along with some friends, Maggie boarded a bus headed for Los Angeles. She found herself living on the streets, searching for jobs where she could cook and clean in a home in exchange for a place to live and eat. She worked in homes for about a year, then came to Omaha where two of her brothers lived. This is when she met Juan--at the Rodeo dance. After talking with him, and getting to know him, she could tell that he was not like the other men. "He knew what he wanted...he wanted a family, he wanted to stay the rest of his life with a woman. So I say, "he's a good man." "He's my man, my love."

Maggie lived in California for one year, and for twelve years in Omaha. She says, "When I came to O'Neill, I see Heaven for my family." "Most people (Americans) are very nice, and I appreciate that more because they are not Mexicans." She adds, "I pray everyday...I don't pray for money-- I pray for my children to be healthy and to have enough food to eat, to pay my bills and for customers." "People come from another country because we don't have enough money to live". "Jesus gives you the opportunity to come. So, I come, work hard, respect the people, respect the law." When she has witnessed other immigrants drinking or doing drugs, she asks them, "Why do you put this opportunity in the trash?" She appreciates the United States for the opportunity, and also thanks the many people who have helped her.

She has many dreams---she wants to inspire her children to attend a university, and she wants to "make them very good people". She dreams of taking her children to Mexico "to show them where I was born, how I lived, so that they would know their (extended) family." "That would help me to explain to them why we're here in the United States and why we work so hard." Additionally, she would like to open a day care business where she would teach Spanish to the English speaking children.

So, come. Relax. Meet the wonderful, gracious, friendly people who run this restaurant. They and their lives are an inspiration, and we are blessed to have such a caliber of people in this town.



  1. My husband gets cranky if he does not eat at La Herradura once a week! This restaurant has quickly become our favorite. The menu is extensive, and everything we have tried has been great. The dark spicy salsa served with the chips is reason alone for a trip there, and I'm pretty sure that the last time we were there I overheard a woman wanting to take some home with her. I wish Juan and Maggie continued success with La Herradura!

  2. Nice story and CUTE couple! I love authentic Mexican food and especially to visit an eatery when it is family owned and operated..the best of the best..

    good food..good people

    Congratulations to Juan and Maggie!



Let us know what you think...