2002 Inductee - Maria Elena Reyes


2002 Inductee - Maria Elena Reyes

Maria Elena Reyes Nena is one of those people who only need one name to be recognized, but her name means different things to different people. For over 17 years her name has meant superb Mexican food. To many Nena is an astute, successful businesswoman who has hired over 200 Hispanics to work in her two restaurants. Nena is also known for helping her employees and others go into business for themselves. Many of her past and present employees have spoken only Spanish, which made it hard for them to get jobs, but Nena gave them an opportunity to work and learn English at the same time. “Nena is well known by a broad segment of our community, from the common people to professionals, from the working class to politicians, from the humble to the powerful. Nena has earned their respect for her integrity,” stated Mercedes Silveira in her nomination papers. Nena’s greatest title may be that of humanitarian. “She has opened her doors to people in times of great need on many occasions,” claims Mercedes. “When tragedy strikes the poor and there is a need for funeral expenses or for sending the remains to his/her loved ones in another country,” Mercedes continues, “Nena is always there to lend a hand. She is well known for feeding the hungry that knock on her door, for donating food for fundraisers, and on one occasion, for saving a youngster from taking his own life.” During Christmas she organizes dinner baskets so the unfortunate will have “something special to eat.” She also volunteers at St. Linus Church. Nena started working when she was 14. Perhaps her work as a farm laborer motivated her to want more - to go into business - at a time when few Hispanic men, and even fewer Hispanic women, owned their own businesses. “Her spirit and desire to progress gave her the courage to enter the business world,” says Mercedes with admiration. Nena has helped others become businessmen and women by teaching them about management and the legal system. Three examples: two former employees opened a cleaning business, a husband and wife started a restaurant and other employees went into the banquet and catering field. She has been named Stockton’s Businesswoman of the Year. Restaurant experts say the popularity of Mexican food is at an all-time high and so is the popularity of fine restaurants such as Nena’s. Mexican food was chosen recently as the most popular food of restaurant goers in America. (Chinese food came in second.) Mark Martin, of the California Restaurant Association said, “restaurant patrons no longer consider Mexican food as ‘ethic’ or secondary anymore but more as part of the mainstream.” Nena’s preparation of Mexican dishes has earned her many first places in highly competitive competitions. For a 2002 Record Cinco de Mayo article her recipes and she were featured. Nena was quote as saying she preferred traditional moles and cochinitas for 5th of May celebrations.