Wife and husband duo Erin Hennessy and Juan Gonzalez, aged 35 and 38 respectively, have had a long life in the restaurant industry. After moving to the Hudson Valley in 2019 with their two daughters, ages 3 and they acquired the New Paltz staple restaurant, Mexican Kitchen. In September 2022, tragedy fell upon the pair. On the morning of Sept. 29, the beloved restaurant caught fire which resulted in its demolition.
The two had different beginnings in the restaurant business; their common thread is that they both began in their youth. Hennessy’s life in the restaurant industry began very young. Her father ran a pub in Ireland which she started working in at age 10 and as she got older, she then moved to other local bars, restaurants and hotels.
“I ended up going to college to study hotel management, business and French,” Hennessy stated. “I moved to New York straight out of college.” Once arriving in New York, she started her work at Irish bars and finished at a three Michelin star restaurant.
Gonzalez moved to New York at the age of 14 and lived in Washington Heights his whole life before he and Hennessy moved to Newburgh at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I started working in restaurants right away after coming to this country,” Gonzalez said. “I worked in this place in SoHo called Balthazar for maybe 14 or 15 years, and then COVID started in 2019 and everything in the city shut down.”
Once moving to Newburgh at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the pair tried to open a cafe in Kingston called the Pink Elephant Cafe. They opened the cafe in May 2021 and had to close it a year later in May 2022 due to high rent and because they felt they were not well enough established in the area.
“To start a business it takes about seven or eight years to become known,” Hennessy said. “I would think that’s even for a local person, let alone people who are not local.”
After Hennessy and Gonzalez decided to close the Pink Elephant Cafe in May, they chose to go a different route in pursuing their desires in the restaurant industry. Rather than starting a business from the ground up they thought that acquiring an already established restaurant would be more their speed.
“One day we went for lunch at Mexican Kitchen, although we had already spoken to the owner as he was selling. We said we weren’t interested, that it was too soon,” Hennessy recalled. “But then we met them and we got talking and we discussed different options. And we started working there to kind of feel out if it would be a good opportunity for us or not.”
“We had originally decided that we were going to do it at the start of next year, but we ended up buying it in September,” Hennessy said. “I guess we jumped the gun a bit.”
The couple has faced some struggles in working and running businesses in the wake of COVID-19. A balance of work and family life was and has been a difficult thing for them while raising two young daughters.
“Our main struggle is that we have two little girls and yes, Juan has family in Manhattan, I don’t have any family in this country besides our own,” Hennessy stated. “Being a business owner there is more freedom to juggle both work and family, there are pros and cons.”
Gonzalez was working 13 hours a day, six days a week at Mexican Kitchen and Hennessy was doing about 40 hours a week to keep up with the business’ demand.
“I say [Mexican Kitchen] is bigger than us, no matter who owns it, it’s the concept [that brings support],” Hennessy stated. “We do hope in the not so distant future that it will be back and it will be better if that’s possible. Like I don’t think we’re going to change much in the future.”Hennessy and Gonzalez are planning to rebuild Mexican Kitchen at some point in the future. Details about the restaurant’s reconstruction have not yet been finalized, but anyone who is interested in helping can donate to the Gofundme campaign.
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