CLAYTON — One of the area’s newest restaurants is the result of a lifelong dream.
“It had always been my dream to open my own restaurant, but I never knew that dream could come true,” said Bertha Lopez, owner of Taqueria Colima located at 11538 Business Hwy 70.
Lopez was born in Colima, Mexico a state on the Pacific coast of southern Mexico. “My grandmother came from a very large family and she was a wonderful cook,” Lopez said. She reminisces about fish dishes like caldo de pescualdo, a flavorful fish soup of that region, and her grandmother’s unique salsa Borracha.
Salsa Borracha’s secret ingredient is tequila which gives the dish its musky flavor. The alcohol content is eliminated in the cooking process.
“My grandmother taught me everything I know about cooking,” Lopez said. “She taught me to keep everything fresh, which is why I make everything in small batches, even the salsa, so it’s fresh every day.” Lopez continues the tradition her grandmother taught her of even making her own tortillas and frijoles daily.
When Lopez was five she moved with her parents to California. They worked as seasonal laborers picking tomatoes and strawberries. Lopez helped with harvesting when her school work allowed it. The family traveled back to Mexico at least once a year where Lopez’ cooking lessons continued.
Lopez and her family relocated to North Carolina 18 years ago. “We moved here because the vandalism and crime in California was terrible,” she said. At the time she had her three oldest children, Marcia, Myra and Angela. Youngest son Juanito arrived after the move.
Lopez found work in various restaurants, but spent the five years prior to opening Taqueria Colima working for Chick Fil-A. “I started cooking, but eventually I became manager.”
With her husband Juan’s encouragement Lopez decided to try her own place. “My husband said my cooking is so good I should open my own restaurant. I said, ‘A restaurant? Are you crazy?!’ but we looked around and found this location and opened last March.”
Lopez, her daughter Marcia, and one other employee staff the restaurant six days a week from nine in the morning until nine at night. The long hours don’t bother Lopez, “I really love cooking and I want people to get to know me and enjoy my food.” Lopez has been lucky to attract some regulars to her restaurant.
“I think I’ve had just about everything on the menu and it’s all good,” said patron Stephen Greco. Marko Evans, another regular, agreed, “This isn’t Taco Bell – I’m in here at least once a week.”
Lopez says her favorite dish on the menu is hard to choose, but if pressed she leans to the chicken gorditas. “Or maybe the steak tortas...I don’t know. It’s like getting to have a piece of my country here.”
Lopez and her family try to return to Colima every year or two. Her parents still live there, but her grandmother passed away two years ago. “Unfortunately she didn’t get to know that I have my own restaurant now,” Lopez said.