Lorena Jimenez left her home in Tepeji del Rio Ocampo, in Hidalgo, Mexico, to escape an abusive marriage and to create a better life for herself and her three daughters. Her original plan was to work for a couple of years, save up some money and return home. But when her eldest daughter Elitanya, 29, got married, Lorena decided to stay and not break up the family. That was 14 years ago and now Boise is home.
“To me, she’s always been a strong woman,” remarked Izzy, 17, the youngest of Lorena’s children.
Lorena was one of nine children, her father was a farmworker and her mother was a housewife and stay-at-home mom. Lorena's first job was washing dishes at age 7, and her employer used to pay the money directly to Lorena's mother.
When Lorena got to Boise, she threw herself into working to provide for her children, often holding down several jobs at a time. Six years ago, a friend told her that the snack shack adjoining Mister Carwash on Fairview Avenue and Curtis Road would soon be vacant. He lent her the money to take it over, and Lorena’s Mexican Grill was born.
Lorena’s menu consists not only of the typical tacos and burritos, but also traditional favorites such as sincronizadas, flautas, dobladas, sopes, huaraches and gorditas that bear almost no resemblance to their Taco Bell counterparts. Soon, workers from local Mexican restaurants started congregating at Lorena’s shack for lunch. She asked one of them if he was there because he didn’t like the cooking at the restaurant where he worked, only to be told that he was the cook.
With the immediate success of her small restaurant, Lorena was able to pay her friend back within the first year.
Lorena had a similar shack in Mexico before moving here, but ultimately, she would like to grow the business into a small restaurant that can shield her customers from the elements.
Last year, the Idaho Hispanic women’s group Mujeres Unidas de Idaho named Jimenez one of its Women of the Year.
According to Izzy, Lorena’s energy and optimism are boundless, and she is always smiling. She says she loves to cook because it’s another way to make people happy.
“Life only is one time; It’s only this moment,” Lorena said.
And while that thought may make some feel pressured or panicked, to Lorena, it’s just a reminder to savor the time we have.
What foods do you loathe?
Wasabi (she mistook it for avocado the first time she tried it and used far too much).
If you weren’t cooking for a living, what would you be doing?
I would be a social worker or a psychologist.
If you could cook a meal for anyone, who would it be and what would you make?
God! What wouldn’t I make for Him? Maybe he would leave fat.