By Bobby Eros
The Margarita Restaurant opened in January 2020, just before the pandemic hit Ottawa. Emilio Escobedo, the owner of the restaurant, said he was hesitant to buy the place and wouldn’t have if his mother, after whom the restaurant is named, hadn’t pushed him to do so.
The building that Escobedo purchased was in the heart of the Glebe, less than a five-minute walk from TD Place, at the corner of Bank Street and Clarey Avenue. And it had a mural on the side of it: a whale being carried by balloons.
Escobedo, unfamiliar with the culture of the neighbourhood he had just entered, decided to paint over the mural, much to the chagrin of the community. Apparently, the Glebe BIA had commissioned a local artist to create the mural and they were none too happy to see it gone.
“When I moved to Canada, I did not know anything about the Glebe or how strong the community here was,” Escobedo explained. “The last thing I wanted to do was have issues with this community, especially one that’s supporting my business.”
Once Escobedo realized the significance of his action, he set forth to make it right. Flash forward, and now another beautiful mural covers the wall on the corner of Bank and Clarey.
“When I painted over that mural, I had no idea how much it meant to this community, or I never would have done it,” said Escobedo. “In my head, I just thought that it has nothing to do with my business, so I painted over it in white.”
Escobedo’s solution was to get in touch with the original artist, Daniel Martelock and ask him to do another mural, one that reflected both the vibrance of the Glebe community and the culture of the Margarita restaurant. That is something near and dear to Escobedo’s heart, maintaining a distinctive Latin feel while providing a service for the cultural melting pot that is the Glebe.
Martelock was thrilled to get the call. “I was surprised when they took my original mural down, but when he contacted me, there was no hesitation, absolutely I was in.”
Martelock was all business from the get-go. “When we met for the first time, I checked out his ideas, his business. . .his menu, just to get more of a feel as to what would suit his business.”
In the end, Martelock went with a simple but beautiful mural design, painting vibrant, violet margarita flowers across the wall and interspersing them with other flowers from Escobedo’s hometown in Mexico. The focus of the mural was Martelock’s calling card, a chickadee wearing a medic’s helmet.
Martelock always incorporates a small bird into his art as he considers them one of the bravest animals. “Small birds don’t migrate for the winter, they stay here like us, helping each other fight the cold, like a bird army.”
The bright flowers are a perfect choice for the Margarita restaurant, matching the energy and colour inside the restaurant. Escobedo often holds Latin-themed events within the restaurant, including live music.
“Once we had an 18-man mariachi band playing in here, it was so incredible,” Escobedo explained. “Now that the pandemic is finally on the downswing, I can’t wait to hold more events like that one.”
Escobedo keeps home close to the heart with his restaurant. “Margarita was inspired by the places I used to own back in Mexico, and I want to keep that legacy alive here. All of my mother’s recipes are still used here, although we did have to make the mole tacos a little less spicy.” Despite that, they are still his favourite menu item, and he’ll often take some home with him after a long day.
It may have taken a few years and a few ruffled feathers, but it is safe to say that Escobedo has been accepted into the Glebe’s flock.
Bobby Eros is a fourth-year journalism student at Carleton with a passion for writing about his hometown.