CHICAGO (CBS) – We’re coming to the end of Hispanic Heritage Month.
Here at CBS 2, we’ve had the pleasure of introducing you to Hispanic leaders, entrepreneurs, and personalities making an impact in our community.
We’d like you to meet an uptown business owner whose latest venture is honoring her Mexican roots. CBS 2’s Marie Saavedra takes us there.
When it comes to experiencing culture and the traditions of our past – few things can transport you as quickly as food can.
Every bite at L/A Mex Taqueria in Uptown takes you directly to Gina Marino Kalish’s roots.
“I was born and raised in Mexico City, lived with my family there and we moved here when I was 10.”
The restaurateur arrived in Chicago 49 years ago, with a story commonly found in many families who’ve emigrated to the U.S.
“My parents helped us to assimilate very quickly, especially my mother, who in her own way didn’t want us to speak Spanish and to embrace our heritage and to really become American,” Gina said.
And so her life unfolded – leading her to study social work, meet her husband Andy Kalish, start a family, and then switching careers entirely.
The pair decided to open a restaurant under their last name.
“I always preferred vegetables and seeds and grains and things.”
Making it Vegan, in a nod to Gina’s plant-based diet.
“We ended up making everything from scratch. Everything by hand,” she said.
That was seven years ago, and it went so well that the World’s first Vegan Jewish Deli followed – Sam and Gerties, in a nod to Andy’s family. Then Gina felt called to complete the trifecta with a restaurant that honored hers.
“As an adult I really embraced my heritage, being Mexican. I never stopped learning about the culture and speaking the language and reading and studying, but finally, the last bit of it was to really honor the food,” Gina said.
It’s now served at the third establishment on her very own Vegan Row on Wilson Avenue, to thrill all kinds of diners.
“They’re eating a chicken taco that tastes exactly like chicken, that shreds like chicken, but it’s not, especially when people come in here not knowing it’s a vegan restaurant and they’re surprised.”
It’s full circle for Gina – nearly 50 years since leaving Mexico. It’s a celebration of Hispanic heritage on every plate.
“We really look back to our families to get recipes and connect with that and to bring them back to life,” she said.
Gina tells us she’s also passionate about hiring and promoting immigrants in her restaurant’s kitchens as a way to give back and encourage other families who’ve started over in Chicago.