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The Mission
One night, after a music rehearsal at our casa with friends Mike Leisenbach and Karen Procter, we were famished for good grub. Rick and I are fortunate to live in a neighborhood where great restaurants are within a short walk. So, the four of us packed up our sheet music and instruments and off we went through the rustic, cobblestone street. We knew exactly where we were headed this warm and wonderful evening.....La Mision.
Right across from The Naked Stage on Rio Bravo, La Mision has a welcoming enclosed stone patio in the front. At the threshold, we were immediately greeted by a smiling, beautiful Mexican woman. We would find out later that she is Esperanza, owner of La Mision along with her husband, Michael Ritchie and one of their chefs.

The design and decor of La Mision is exquisite - all polished stone, elegant mirrors, high ceilings, classic columns, and beautifully dressed tables. Esperanza and Michael just recently added a baby grand piano, so soft, romantic music every evening from 6:00 until 9:00 will be a big part of the restaurant's "elegant ambiance and affordable prices" - a slogan they wish people to associate with their dining experience there.

We were shown to a table of our preferred spot and began our delightful culinary experience. Karen's questions about the restaurant's wine collection were answered by the waiter and she settled on a Merlot. Mike ordered a Negro Modelo beer. Rick and I are quite boring in that department. We were happy with our Agua Naturel.

As usual, we laughed and gorged our way through the meal. This meal was deliciously prepared. Our table was spread with succulent Coconut Shrimp accompanied by both smashed white and sweet potatoes; Grilled Salmon with colorful steamed vegetable medley and smashed potatoes; Chicken Breast Provensal topped with steamed spinach; and Sesame Seed Encrusted Tuna Fish with steamed vegetable medley.

A plus of eating out with Mike and Karen is that they love a good gourmet dessert as much as we do. We all four had the Chocolate Flour-less Cake garnished with red raspberries and drizzled with raspberry sauce. Exquisite!

The menu is changed up daily and the food is prepared by top-notch chefs. The restaurant also features 54- peso lunch specials Tuesday through Friday.

When we were sitting there kicked back and sated after polishing off the cake, Michael Ritchie, a tall good-looking Canadian gentlemen dressed in black, appeared and introduced himself as the owner. He invited us on a tour of the restaurant. He led us to the back of the restaurant where we peeked into the bright kitchen and then stood with him in the large dining room suited for parties and groups. In the center of the room was a massive and uniquely designed table, with smaller tables on the outskirts of the elegant room. Michael began to tell us about his mission - feeding the poor, which is the purpose of this restaurant. He spoke with pride and eloquence, and the four of us listened in awe.

I asked Michael if I could come back to interview him for my blog. He graciously consented, we set the date, and our little band of music makers walked back to Casa J - maybe I should say ...waddled.

So, the interview happened a few days later - Michael and I sitting in the back of the restaurant at a small table where he was sipping on the soup of the day - Ritchie Clam Chowder - the only time he had stopped to eat all day.

Born in Victoria, Canada, Michael later became an executive businessman/financier . He spent some time in Scottsdale, Arizona where he began to hatch the idea of using the proceeds of a fine restaurant to feed the hungry. After a friend moved to Ajijic and boasted about the "expat Paradise," Michael came to visit and loved it. He loved it so much, he immediately bought a house and began planning his move to Mexico, which came to fruition in 1996. It is here that he met his wife of fifteen years, Esperanza, whose name, he pridefully tells me, means "Hope."

After La Mision was built and the mission to feed the hungry was underway, one day a young Mexican man named Alvaro Rene Garcia Martinez walked into the restaurant. He spoke with Michael about his charity project of collecting and delivering Christmas toys to the children of poor families. Alvaro needed about fifty more presents and he asked Michael if he would be interested in contributing. Michael and Esperanza provided Alvaro with the rest of the toys he needed, and Esperanza insisted upon helping to distribute them. Alvaro took her to a barrio outside of Chapala where they played Santa to the delight of many a child.

After that, Esperanza came home to Michael and told him, "I know where we are going to take the food!"

They have been going out to the poor barrios to serve delicious and nutritious pots of rice mixed with chicken and vegetables ever since. One hundred per cent of the restaurant's profit - after chef pay and utilities - goes to supplying the truly needy with food. They implement an application process to ensure that the ones who really need it are fed.

Michael's motto is "You can't help the needy by feeding the greedy."

In addition to feeding the poor, Michael's team also counsels young mothers on being good mothers and how to find jobs with which to support the family. They provide incentives for the children to stay in school. More often than not, there are no men in the family except for the young sons. Michael's volunteers reach out to the single mothers, the grandmothers, and the children.

"We have to break the cycle," Michael tells me.

Michael welcomes volunteers to help with his mission. It is imperative that volunteers who counsel the young mothers and children are fluent in the Spanish language. But he welcomes other volunteers, as well. Here are things people can volunteer to do:

1) Fund raise.
2) Help take the food to the barrios.
3) Help serve the food and bring the pots/supplies back to the restaurant.
4) Show benevolence and kindness in the Mexican communities.

The long-range goal for Michael is to build restaurants just like La Mision through-out Mexico.

Michael and Esperanza wanted me to share a really nice experience they had just last week. A party of three came into La Mision, which included an older gentleman who had difficulty walking. He wanted to be seated at the back of the restaurant so he could take in the total splendor of the decor and the music. After they finished eating, the gentleman came over to Ritchie. He told Ritchie that he was 87 years old and had been in the restaurant business all of his life.

"Your restaurant has the ambiance of a fine New York restaurant and the food is as good as Mickelson's. Congratulations!" he told Ritchie.

As he was leaving, he left Michael with one more thing. He told him to buy a book by Alex Trudeau, which would teach Michael that the most important thing to most people is for someone to remember their name.

A few days after the interview, my husband and I went back to La Mision for Valentine's Day. I once again had my fetish of Coconut Shrimp, but this time with Beet Risotto. Soooo good. Half-way through our chocolate cake, Michael Ritchie - the businessman, the restaurant owner, the charity organizer - surprised us by putting on yet another hat. He stood in the middle of the restaurant and began to croon Frank Sinatra tunes to his patrons in his smooth baritone voice.

He did so in the same way he approaches everything else, as does lovely Esperanza - with class and a beautiful heart.


Contact Info and Directions:
Michael Ritchie
La Mision

Head West on Carretera a Jocotepec.
Turn Left onto Rio Bravo (just past Yve's Restaurant, Dental Express & Aztec Studio)
La Mision is on the right.

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