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Covid-19 has brought most of Mexico City’s restaurants to a halt. But Antolina in the Condesa neighborhood has found a way to keep its kitchen active. “We were about to shut [the restaurant] down when we got the idea of doing something different to keep breathing,” says owner Pedro Sañudo.

Pedro, known to his friends as Pete Mezcales, has long collaborated with maestros mezcaleros (mezcal makers) to promote the drink and ensure that they are paid fair wages for their labor. As part of this work, he founded Corazón de Maguey, which offered craft mezcals as well as superb food, in partnership with the restaurant group Los Danzantes, a collaboration that lasted 10 years.

His next project was opening Antolina in February 2018 with his wife, Saray, and chef Adolfo Schwalge. Named after Adolfo’s grandmother, the restaurant – and its menu – pays homage to women, the pillar of Mexican families and guardians of the country’s traditional cuisine. In line with Pedro’s passion for supporting local producers, most of Antolina’s ingredients come from Xochimilco’s chinampas.

The restaurant proved to be an instant hit, with diners attracted to the high-quality local ingredients, the seasonal menu, the relaxing atmosphere and, last but not least, the outstanding mezcal selection, which includes many hard-to-find bottles.

The last special menu before the pandemic hit Mexico City was designed and mounted by chef José Bossuet. Born in Chiapas, he’s a very enthusiastic promoter of the cuisine and culture of the southeast Mexico state. The offering was a success, another win for a restaurant on the rise.

But then the new health and safety restrictions kicked in, and Antolina’s sales dwindled to 300 pesos a day. “I was desperate. Then I started looking for people in need of help and searching [for] people willing to help ease this terrible situation. And all of a sudden we became the connecting bridge,” Pedro explains.

It was early April when Pedro met José Vallejo, the director of Fundación Renacimiento, an IAP (Private Assistance Institution) that offers kids and teenagers who live or have lived on the streets a space to stay, to eat, to learn and to access medical and mental health services. José explained that they were struggling to feed the kids. So instead of shutting down Antolina, Pedro and his staff prepared 120 meals, enough to feed the 40 kids at the shelter for one full day, with what was left of the restaurant’s stock.

After that first donation, the staff of Antolina committed to cooking meals for Fundación Renacimiento for 40 days. Through friends and a listing on Donadora, a crowd funding site, Pedro was able to put together enough resources to make it happen.

“At the foundation they really try to change the life of youngsters who came from a hard background of abandonment, violence and drugs, ” Pedro explains. Around 35 percent of the kids at Fundación Renacimiento are eventually able to go back to their homes or rejoin society.

“We realized very soon it was not going to be only about serving food but to become part of something with a deeper meaning. Fortunately I got the support of my family and staff to go ahead and embrace this project,” he adds.

While Pedro, his family, chef Adolfo and the other staff worked long, tiring days and earned very little, they felt connected to a higher purpose. “We really believe we are doing something special, that has a human side with a high social impact,” Pedro says. “Once again we learned [that] life is not only about making money but also about achieving other goals, which is part of Antolina’s essence.”

By now Antolina has already delivered 40 days worth of meals to Fundación Renacimiento. As a next step, Pedro wants to launch another campaign and collect donations to continue feeding these kids. But he also has the idea of offering cooking lessons at the foundation and then eventually incorporating these trained cooks into Antolina’s kitchen when they are ready. “If we keep on going like this, I see a chance that this system could become a business in the future,” Pedro says.

“Ninety days ago we were broken, but now we’re restarting operations, offering home delivery service, and the good news is that we could keep the space and the jobs,” he proudly adds.

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in donating to this project, you can contact Pedro directly at pedro@antolina.mx.

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