People say it’s only through adversity that we uncover our true selves and reach our ultimate potential. I am completely aware that it sounds like a big, soggy cliché, but just stay with me here this is an amazing story. Imagine a beautiful stay-at-home mom, married with three young children living in rural Saskatchewan. Life for her is just as it should be…until it isn’t. A tragic hunting accident leaves her suddenly and shockingly widowed. After scrambling to reorganize her life and reassure her children that everything will be OK, she and a friend decide that a sanity-saving trip to Mexico will be just what she needs to recharge.
Diane Babyuk’s first trip to Mexico was more than a relaxing holiday, it was the initial spark that lit her new passion! She had fallen in love with the country, the people, the climate and most importantly…the food! On the flight home, the gears were already turning with a plan to return as soon as possible. She’d already painfully experienced first hand that life was too short, so rather than question it…she went for it! Sold everything, packed up her three children and relocated her life. This bold adventure led to a new relationship and another move to Atlanta, Georgia, where she and her family remained for ten years. She found her niche managing and eventually co-owning a couple of successful Mexican restaurants.
With no previous restaurant experience and no formal training, she had only her instinctive business sense to guide her. Fortunately for Nanaimo, Diane knew she’d eventually have to return to Canada. After living in warm southern locales for so many years, a return to Saskatchewan’s harsh winters wasn’t appealing. Eventually the climate, friends and family drew her to the Island seven years ago. Being such an impatient person myself, I have nothing but admiration for her tenacity. It took over five challenging years to work through all of the business planning, location scouting and red-tape. Through the guidance of a local Community Futures program and her own persistence , the doors of Baby Salsa opened a year and a half ago!
No, it’s NOT a chain. No, there is no crazy story behind the name. No, Diane is not Latino. Yes, the food is authentic, fresh, Mexican fare. When asked what sets Baby Salsa apart, Diane emphatically answered “We start from scratch for nearly everything”. That literally means they go through hundreds of pounds of fresh tomatoes, peppers and onions weekly! There is no microwave in the kitchen, very few canned items and it is a lot of hard work. She feels the flavours are worth the effort. All of the recipes are her own, collected, developed and tested over the years. Each member of the kitchen team is personally taught by Diane, every technique and secret shared. Her favourite? She claims it has to be the chorizo. She searched for an authentic chorizo and couldn’t find one with the flavours she knew from Mexico, so she made it herself! That recipe is the same that they use today, the perfect balance of spice and salt.
When you walk into Baby Salsa, you are on a tropical holiday! The warmly decorated walls, the spicy aroma in the air and the friendly greetings with the inviting Spanish accents. Although Diane is not Latino she does speak fluent Spanish and so do the majority of her staff. When I enquired about how she found her cooks and servers, she simply said “They found me”. Her appreciation of her co-workers shone through as she shared that many of them are from Mexico and other Central American countries, studying in Canada and through word-of-mouth heard about the new Mexican restaurant. It certainly adds an authenticity to the spot. When I took my three younger children in for lunch a few weeks ago, they were thrilled to use the basic Spanish they had learned while in Nicaragua last year. The server was gracious and encouraging as they asked for help. Gracias to him!
For those of us who have those big dreams, places we want to go to, things we still want to do…Diane’s story is inspiring and motivating. I felt energized just speaking with her! She humbly shared that her positivity is motivated by her customers appreciation, her passion for the food and the love of her business. So stop in and say hello, if you haven’t been before, tell them I sent you! Sit outside on their sunny patio enjoy their complimentary chips and salsa while you sip an icy margarita . Oh dear, I think I’m going to have to go again soon. I feel a serious craving coming on. Who’s in?
Baby Salsa Mexican Restaurant #205, 550 5th St, University Village, Nanaimo, BC 250-591-8353
Adversity is like a strong wind. It tears away from us all but the things that cannot be torn, so that we see ourselves as we really are.
~Arthur Golden, Memoirs of a Geisha