Mi Cocinita goes through the pandemic


SOAP LAKE — Emerita Villafana said the pandemic has been a challenge for her as a business owner and she looks forward to business picking up as the weather warms and the pandemic ends.

“We can’t give up, we’re going to give it our all,” Villafana said.

Villafana owns and operates two businesses in the Columbia Basin; Mi Cocinita Mexican Grill and Cantina in Soap Lake and Mi Cocinita and Groceries in Ephrata.

Mi Cocinita and Groceries, located at 444 E. Division Ave., came first. Villafana said she had worked in a number of different fields, but decided to get into the restaurant industry while at a flea market in Mattawa. She said she was there to sell clothes and noticed the popularity of a stand that sold Mexican fruit cups and other Hispanic snacks and products.

Villafana has a background in cooking, watching and helping her family throw parties. Her father was a chef when she was growing up in California.

Villafana decided to start looking for a place to launch his new idea. She finally found a place she thought was the perfect location for her restaurant in Ephrata.

One day, her priest came to visit her new workplace and inspired her to name the business “Mi Cocinita” or “My Little Kitchen” because the kitchen was quite small, she said.

In 2010, Mi Cocinita and Groceries were born.

The Ephrata site is open 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.

Mi Cocinita Mexican Grill and Cantina, located at 222 Daisy St. S. in Soap Lake, have struggled much more during the pandemic than Mi Cocinita and Groceries, Villafana said. Shea added that at one point Mi Cocinita and Groceries was the only thing keeping the restaurant afloat.

Part of the struggle was because many Soap Lake businesses depend on tourism in the summer for a large portion of their clientele, Villafana said.

Another hurdle is that she opened the Soap Lake location in August 2019. This gave them shortly before the onset of the pandemic to establish a positive clientele and reputation in the community.

Although it has been difficult, Villafana said she feels very lucky to continue running a business she loves.

“I love what I do,” Villafana said. “I have confidence that it will be a successful restaurant.”

Soap Lake’s restaurant features a custom wooden bar, handcrafted by his son, as well as Mexican artwork. Each chair has a unique image carved and painted on it.

While they serve many dishes that customers would expect to find in a Mexican restaurant, they also offer seasonal items such as oysters, which will be available around mid-April, Villafana said.

Villafana added that everything down to the corn and flour tortillas are homemade and sourced from fresh ingredients.

She said some of their best-selling dishes include carnitas, burritos and tamales.

The Soap Lake Restaurant is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday, and closed Monday.

Villafana said while the menus may look different, any food item available at one location is available at both.

She also encourages customers to ask if there’s anything they want they don’t see on the menu. Villafana said she can work with them to customize the dishes to their liking.

Villafana runs the two businesses with her husband Javier Betancourt and her two children Andrea and Joaquin Hernandez.

“Together we are stronger,” said Villafana.

Rebecca Pettingill can be reached at [email protected]

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