Photo by Isaac Harrell
Michel Zajur's parents opened La Siesta back in 1972, when Mexican food to most Richmonders was considered exotic. "People would think Mexican food was [too] hot, and we really had to educate them and get them to try it," says Zajur, who ran La Siesta for 35 years until 2000. (La Siesta closed in 2009.) Zajur is the founder and CEO of the Virginia Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.
In the early days, there were a few Chinese restaurants and a handful of other ethnic restaurants. Things have clearly changed. "It's hard to believe this is the same city that I grew up in because it's unbelievable the different kinds of cuisines and foods [available now]," Zajur says. Even finding staples like jalapeno peppers, cilantro and tomatillos was not possible back then; they had to be either grown or shipped from Washington, D.C.
New World Cuisine Zajur credits Richmond's proximity to D.C., as well as the influence of companies that have moved into town and brought transplants from all over the world, for helping to evolve the collective RVA palette. "What we have now happened with the growth of the economy and quality of life," he says. —RM