Our first travel on Mexico Highway 101 was shortly after buying our home in Chapala. The Chapala to San Luis Potosi to Brownsville, Texas trip was memorable for the beauty of the treacherous mountain highways and the magnificent countryside—but, most of all, for our first encounter with the Zeta drug cartel. Two truckloads of “federales”…
I drive my dogs from Ajijic to Chapala’s beautiful Cristinia Park almost every Sunday. The dogs run around and socialize with the locals there: kids being taught by their parents to ride their bikes on the smooth pavement, and entire extended families playing ball and having their Sunday picnic together. I greet the same families…
Well, I’ve done it again. I’ve opened up yet another business—this time, a women’s clothing store in Plaza Bugambilias in Ajijic to be named Su Estilo (Your Style). What the heck am I doing? I’ve been asking myself that for the last few weeks (actually, most of my life), and it’s finally becoming clear to…
LCR: Paul, you’re the first expat I’ve met who has actually moved his manufacturing operation down here. Where are you from?
Paul: We’re both from Oregon, but we’re most recently from Washington state. I started a little manufacturing operation there by myself in 1992—22 years ago. I’m a mechanical engineer, and I make precise metal parts for special industries, like aerospace, medical, and sporting goods. I had been a manufacturer’s rep for metal parts, and just started buying specialized machines of my own to make them myself. Eventually, my moonlighting started to make more money than my sales rep job, so I quit that, and that manufacturer became my biggest customer.
LCR: Where is your manufacturing operation now?
P: It’s in Chapala. I found a 3,000 square foot warehouse near Soriana’s. That part was easy. Getting those huge machines imported was quite an ordeal, though. It was difficult to find a shipper who was willing to ship them. They’re used to shipping household goods, mostly, so this was out of their comfort zone. But the biggest problem was our customs broker. We ended up getting the machines piecemeal—probably to extract more money from us each time another part showed up. What a nightmare. I could write a book.
LCR: That’s not a bad idea. Maybe someone else could learn from your experience. Kathy, are you part of the manufacturing operation, too?
Kathy: No, not really, although I’ve certainly helped with all the logistics. My own background is programming and computer hardware and software installations. I’ve also taught computer science in grade schools and high schools for many years. And, I’ve worked as a technical writer, as well. We reached a point where we just wanted to live a different life. Not to retire, but to experience a different country. Our daughter, Lauren, had just graduated from high school, so we were all ready for new adventures. She’s here, too.
LCR: That’s great. What would she like to do?
K: She and I are going to start a bakery, and then she’ll eventually take it over. She’s enrolled in online business administration courses to learn more about running a business, and I’ll mentor her, of course. We’re sourcing all our ingredients now, and looking for a location. It’s been wonderful how welcoming and kind and helpful people have been. Our Mexican friends know people who know people, so we’ve been very fortunate.
LCR: What are you going to have for sale?
K: Well, we’ve been testing recipes every week for about a year.We’re going to have pies and cakes and cupcakes and muffins—all classic American baked goods. Recently, we’ve made cinnamon raisin bread, a 4-layer toasted coconut cake, and a chocolate sponge cake with raspberry cream filling rolled up in a roulette. Oh, and Lauren made Kahlua chocolate cupcakes yesterday. Our friends taste-test them.
LCR: Lucky friends. What else are you up to?
K: We’ve been building a house.
LCR: You guys are gluttons for punishment. How’s it going?
P: Well, they’ve just broken the ground now, and it’s been over a year. But, we’ve been through several builders in that time. We’re pretty confident now that we’ve got the right ones. We’ve learned now to write a series of contracts for various steps rather than a contract for the whole house. The current contract is for all the gray work to be done by July. We originally thought we were going to be in the house last December. That clearly didn’t happen.
K: There’s another book we could write. The main thing we’ve learned is not to be in a hurry. People should talk to a lot of people, and take their time to learn the process.
LCR: Well, best of luck to you both.
So, you’re from Canada?
Yes, I’m a good Canadian boy. I was born in Ottowa, the capital. But I’ve also lived in the Toronto area.
How did you end up down here?
I came down in 1998 for a visit with my family and friends. I had been searching the internet about where to go to escape the cold, and Ajijic kept coming up.
We loved it, and we bought a property here the next year. Then, about 5 years later, my wife and I decided to come here full time. The cost of living is much lower here, and starting and owning a business is so easy. In Canada, it’s very complex, with lots of paperwork and regulations and taxes. I had a natural food business there for some thirty years.
Did you come here without a job then? How did you begin?
I started going to the local markets to see what they had. I also talked with a few people, and they said what was missing was bread. There wasn’t any really good quality bread here. So, I started making some at home, and bringing it to the markets. I started with 2 loaves, then 12, then 20, then 100, and then 150.
Did you need a license to sell food?
No. I couldn’t believe how easy it was. I just made the loaves and sold them. It was great! Viva Mexico! The bread business did really well for a couple of years. But it was stressful because bread has a short shelf life without preservatives. It got to be too demanding for me, so I sold the business to some friends here. It’s still open and doing well.
Then I started thinking about what other foods I could make and sell here. I’d always had an interest in natural, healthy foods. So, I decided to make pro-biotic foods, which is what I still do. Pro-biotic refers to the healthy bacteria that assists digestion, boosts the immune system, and increases serotonin in your body. So, not only is it good for your body, it also produces a sense of well-being. I make and sell pro-biotic sauerkraut, pickles, ginger beer, kefir, and yoghurt. I also make nut butters – natural peanut butter and almond butter.
I think that natural, healthy, locally-grown food is the future of medicine, actually. Today, drugs are used to limit our suffering and to hide the symptoms of disease and illness. But, drugs don’t make you healthy. Bodies are self-healing. When they’re under a lot of stress, they try to compensate for it, and go out of balance and become ill. I’m glad to see that modern medicine is starting to turn more and more to natural healing methods. I definitely enjoy selling my foods at the markets (the Monday Market in San Antonio Tlayacapan, and the Tuesday Market at La Huerta Eventos in west Ajijic), where I get a chance to talk to people about natural health. There are also three stores who carry my products: the Granero on the carretera in Ajijic next to Gossips Restaurant, the Daily Market on Constitución by Number 4 Restaurant, and Peter Panaderia on the carretera in Ajijic. I never seem to have enough stock to keep them all happy.
What does the future look like for you? Are you planning to expand your operations?
No. Natural food requires local production, so there’s a limit to what I can produce well here. I don’t want to ship things across the country. What I will probably do is franchise it. I’ll help others set up similar operations in other parts of the country. I’m really very satisfied with the business at the local markets. I’m very comfortable here.
What does your family think of all this?
Well, I’m single now, but, I have 4 children and 8 grandchildren, and they’re spread all over the US and Canada. They have successful lives there, and are all very busy. We keep in touch using Skype. My one son and his family came down here to visit recently, and they loved it. And so do I. This is my home. I’m very happy and fulfilled here.
Best of luck to you.
How long have you been here?
As of October 2nd, I’ve been here one year. But, I feel like I’ve been here four or five. I’m from Toronto – a place called The Beaches. I had come for a holiday a year ago this past February to visit a friend. I was here for 10 days, went back home, and thought to myself, “I don’t know what I’m doing here.”
So, then and there, I started processing my visa application, figuring out what to do with my furniture, and getting things packed up. I was going to drive myself down with my dog, Petey. But a friend of mine said she wanted to drive with me. So, we drove down. It took five days.
Did you have a job in Toronto?
I had been working part time at a wine store for Peller Estates. That’s a very old vineyard on the Niagara peninsula. I just got tired of the winters, and wanted something different. Actually, I wanted to do nothing. But, somehow, after three months, I was working part-time at a shop here. I met a lot of people there, one of which was Rob Giacobbi (alias Wilde) (see Meet the Expat article on Rob HERE). He and I started talking about maybe opening up a store here together. He had opened up Wilde’s Dildoria, and was interested in partnering in another business, too.
We researched a lot of options, and finally decided to open a glass shop. No one was specializing in that here. We found some great contacts and suppliers here, like glass artist Monica Petrowitsch, who now exclusively supplies most our glass wall art. What’s really cool about her is that she’ll store people’s art for 6 months of the year if they’re snowbirds, so they don’t have to ship it back or worry about it when they’re not here. We also have an exclusive deal with a local glass artist who normally only exports north of the border. But we go over there and get a few of the pieces from each collection he does. We’re also going to do his Christmas show this year. And, we also have an exclusive relationship with Kim Eagles, who does our painted crystal.
What was it like opening up a shop for the first time?
It was great. We did most of the painting and decorating ourselves because we really wanted to feel like we were part of it. We went to Tonala for ideas together, and carried tables down the street that we found at local bazaars.
(Rob) This was the first time, for me, where the idea just started having a life of its own. It just drove itself. As soon as we put it in motion, it just came together, one step at a time. Everything just worked. My big contribution was the name: Kiss My Glass.
(Lynda) I was a little hesitant about the name at first, but I just caved. I’m glad I did now. So many people have come in to say how they love it. This area is becoming a little more edgy and up-and-coming. So, it’s fine.
Have you had a grand opening?
Not yet. It’s planned for Saturday, November 22nd. We’ll have a little wine, and we’ll probably have all our Christmas stuff out by that time. In the mean time, we’re open Wednesdays through Saturdays, 11 to 5. Come December, we’ll probably be open more hours. Rob and I work here on different days.
What does your family think of all this? Have they visited?
I have a son, and he’s busy working in Toronto. He thinks what I’ve done is great. My friends come to visit, though. My friend who drove down with me has now stayed with me three times. She loves it here.
You don’t regret your decision, then?
I do miss my family and my friends. But they can come down here.
(Rob) I’m too acclimated now to the Mexican lifestyle. I went back to Ottawa this summer for a few months, and couldn’t wait to come back here.
What do you think about the business climate in this area?
(Rob) There are just a lot of untapped opportunities here. And it’s really easy to open a business. There’s very little red tape and licensing. You just get an idea and go.
(Lynda) And, we’ve started a small business support group now, too, where we get together and help each other work through any problems. The more experienced business people help advise the newer ones.
Well, best of luck to you both on your new venture.
For more information, contact:
Kiss My Glass
16 de Septiembre #2A, Ajijic (near Colón)