HOCU | The cook bringing authentic Mexican food from Moroleón to Urbana

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Mohul Varma

David Perez, owner of Huaraches Moroleón on Philo Road and Washington Street, traveled from Mexico, to Los Angeles and finally to Urbana to open up his restaurant in bringing authentic Mexican food to the area.

By Rebecca Oriza, Contributing Writer

Like clockwork every morning, David Perez steps into Huaraches Moroleón — a Mexican restaurant nestled in the corner of Philo Road. He starts to make breakfast for his younger son while prepping the eatery for the day. For Perez, family is at the center of everything, even in running his restaurant.

When Perez first learned how to cook, it was out of necessity as he had just moved to California from Moroleón, Mexico in his early 20s. 

“When you move from Mexico to the U.S., you have to do it on your own,” Perez said. “You want to eat? You have to do everything. There’s no mom or dad with you, so do it yourself.”

Perez left Los Angeles for Urbana in 2001. Unlike in LA, it was hard to find authentic Mexican food in Urbana. If Perez wanted any, he had to make it. 

Perez’s longing for Mexican food led to a weekend side gig where he sold carnitas out of his garage. He later added huaraches to his menu, a popular dish from back home. 

The community and Perez’s friends and family loved his dishes, and he wanted to do something more. So, in December 2012, Perez opened Huaraches Moroleón. The restaurant is named after his best-selling dish and an homage to Perez’s hometown. 

Looking back, Perez reflected on how hard it was in the beginning.

“It was just me and my wife, and sometimes we cried a little,” Perez said. “The first 6 months were hard. There was no business because people (in Urbana) didn’t try very much.” 

Serving authentic Mexican food in Central America was a challenge. Perez said he had difficulties getting proper ingredients. He also had to hire and train staff who were unfamiliar with the traditional Mexican style.

But despite the challenges, Perez said his hard work has paid off.

“When you like something or you feel like you want to do something better, you just have to make the decision on what you want to do, and do whatever it takes to keep going,” Perez said.  

All recipes are his own and are similar to his mom’s cooking growing up. They’re also inspired by cuisines he enjoys at other places.

“When I eat in a restaurant and there’s something I like, I’ll try to fix it up to my style, and we’ll run it as a special for a year,” Perez said.

Like similar family-owned restaurants, the pandemic hit Huaraches Moroleón hard, but Perez persevered. Joined by his wife and son, Perez put in more hours at the restaurant. He said this was a blessing, as he got to spend more time with his family.

“We lost all the waitstaff employees and now we’re starting over, but we’re starting over with my family,” Perez said.

Perez said he couldn’t have done it without the Champaign-Urbana community. He credits locals, his sons’ teachers, the police force and the fire department who continued to support his business over the years. Perez also praised his wife, who has been there since the beginning.

While the business has grown significantly over the last decade, Perez has no intentions of opening a food truck or a second location. He takes pride in being able to serve everything from his cozy corner on Philo Road.

“We want to keep it small so everything could be in our control, the quality is the same, and have good service,” Perez said. 

 

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