London Mexican restaurant Immanuel’s Kitchen uses good food to do good
To Ester Garcia, Immanuel’s Kitchen is a symbol of adversity. Started in 2015 after 30 years of cooking Spanish food, the London pop-up Mexican restaurant has given Garcia a sense of self-worth she’s grappled with her entire life.
Garcia has overcome trauma, addiction and dyslexia to launch the business, drawing in customers with her attention to diet restrictions and menu of empanadas, tacos and pupusas among other Mexican dishes. And it’s given her an outlet to help others. “I work with women that have been human trafficked or struggled with addiction or that have disabilities,” says Garcia. She’s found purpose through the business. But it’s taken some time.
Garcia says the whole thing came close to falling apart in 2020. She was five years into the business and had just sold her house to ensure she had the funding necessary to execute her vision. Within a few months, the world shut down. “I didn't know how to react… I was in a building of 2,000 people,” she says. Garcia started second-guessing herself and she had no idea how to translate her business to the new digital reality. “I didn’t know how to do social media, I didn’t have a website,” she says. To her, it felt like she had to rebuild it all.
But slowly, she started restructuring her business model to include prepared foods and emphasized to-go items. Her location in a trendy food court helps draw the curious in. “It's been taking us a while… but little by little it’s coming together.”
Recently, Garcia’s digital strategy got a boost when she connected with Digital Main Street, a program which combines grants and one-to-one support from the Province of Ontario alongside partners to help main street businesses strengthen their online capabilities and plan for the digital future.
“They came here and talked to some of the other vendors and it happened that the lady was Spanish,” says Garcia. They had a lengthy conversation about her vision for Immanuel’s Kitchen and the Digital Service Squad member recommended Garcia apply for the $2,500 Digital Transformation Grant to help her build out her e-commerce and invest in her social media presence through advertising.
Garcia received the grant and began designing her digital presence. Working with Digital Main Street made it less daunting, giving her digital training and helping her redesign the e-commerce website and navigate social media advertising. “Because I work with people with disabilities, we’re getting a POS system that’ll be very easy for them to understand and use.”
Currently, a lot of the business's sales are through UBER Eats but Garcia envisions a more digitally-driven business that allows her to focus on production and then sell online. “My heart is in providing for people that don’t have time to cook,” she says. “They can come and pick it up and warm it or they pop it in the freezer… you help them eat healthily and feed their kids without having to struggle and the prices are reasonable.”
Garcia admits she’s not where she wants to be yet. But she’s getting there. “It's not all about the money, it's about helping people… I've been there before with lots of trauma and abuse,” she says. “I've had a big journey and I’ve used my negatives to help others.”
Check out Immanuel’s Kitchen for delicious and authentic Mexican food here!
To learn more about how Digital Main Street can help your business, please visit here.
Digital Main Street was created by the Toronto Association of Business Improvement Areas (TABIA) with direct support from the City of Toronto. DMS is also supported by a group of strategic business partners, including Google, Mastercard, Shopify, Meta, Intuit QuickBooks, Square, Lightspeed, Ebay and Canada Post.
Continued investment from the Province of Ontario, through the Ministry of Economic Development, Job Creation and Trade (MEDJCT) has allowed the ongoing expansion the Digital Main Street Platform in order to support more businesses going digital across Ontario.