Katherine Mitchell Submitted photo

Thanks to Katherine Mitchell, and many semi-spontaneous leaps of faith in her journey, Paris has a fresh, authentic East Los Angeles-style Mexican restaurant.

Mitchell, 40, a mother of three, was born in East Los Angeles. She eventually moved to Maine with her husband and found herself packing burritos and tacos in her carry-on every time she flew back to Maine.

Starting as a food truck/trailer across from the Oxford County Superior Courthouse in 2017, she’s grown Luchador Tacos to its current location on Nichols Street and on July 9, opened a second location in North Conway.

How did East L.A. cuisine wind up in Paris? We had a lot of well intentioned friends who say, “Hey, go to Portland, or go to whatever place, the food is good, real Mexican food.” And you’d go and it wasn’t what you’re used to from your neighborhood. Like Chicago has pizza and New York has pizza and people eat it differently, it’s the same for Mexican food. The food you get in Texas will be different than what you get in California. It even varies from city to city; what you get in San Francisco will be definitely be different than what you get in East L.A.

My husband’s from Maine, and so he had been traveling with me for years when he went home to meet my family. He got used to the food that I grew up with and he loved it, too. Every time we went home, we’d bring back like 10 burritos from our favorite taco place. We’d bring it back in our suitcase, or I’d have my mom bring it, and then TSA (the Transportation Security Administration) would be like, “What is this?” We’d say, we can’t get this over there.

So, it started out just because I was out of work for a while and I was applying at different places. I met somebody who had a little food trailer and they were in a building. I asked what happened to their food trailer and they said they were selling.

My husband bought me the little food truck and we decided to set it up in South Paris. It took a while to get it open, about a year. I think the town hadn’t had one in a long time and there were a lot of restrictions and stuff. But we finally got it open, and it went well.

How long ago was that? May 5, 2017. It was a lot of red tape to get through and there was a moment I almost wanted to give up. I was paying to keep it heated, and paying the lot rent, and I was losing money. I was working at Chipotle trying to learn to fold burritos. I came home from work late at night and I got pulled over because my tags had expired. I was working three jobs at the time and I had no idea.

It was a Scarlett O’Hara moment. I was like, “As God as my witness, I have to get this thing open.” It was the push I needed to get through because I was so ready to give up.

Luchador started as a trailer/food truck. What was the transition process moving into the space on Nichols Street? In mid-January, it was our first year in the trailer and we were trying to stick it out as much as we could, but the pipes froze. We thought, wow, we need to find a building.

We looked everywhere: South Paris, Oxford, but there wasn’t a lot of commercial property that had a hood and a kitchen available. The owner of Smokin’ Dave’s was moving to Norway and he contacted me and said “Hey, I’m moving out. If you want this place I could talk to the landlord and he could save it for you.”

Would you mind describing the expansion into North Conway? A broker named Greydon Turner came to eat at our place on Nichols Street and was floored. He said, “We really need you guys in North Conway, I have the perfect building for you.”

But I’m a mom, and the restaurant on Nichols Street is probably 0.2 miles from my house — it’s so convenient. My kids are always calling from school if they forget lunch. I tried to be as involved with them as I can while I balance work, too. My husband has his own job. A lot of times it’s just me at home with the kids and my husband helps as much as he can.

That’s not the first time people have wanted us to go to other buildings. In Bethel, they’ve been trying to get us up there for a long time — they had called us to see if we’d go to the mountain and be part of the vendors there. I didn’t want to commute to Bethel. We looked at the the Auburn Mall, but I didn’t want to commute to Auburn. Greydon asked if I would at least go look at the place.

I walked into the building with my manager and my husband. It had mostly brand new equipment: a brand new grill, a brand new hood and all the equipment was there. Everything was good to go, we just had to supply the food. We all really came to the realization that it would be a shame to pass up on this opportunity that basically fell into our lap. We went for it, because you know, never try, never fail. So far we’ve had a really warm welcome in North Conway.

What is the anatomy of a Luchador/East L.A. taco? The American taco will have your basic chicken, cheese, sour cream, lettuce and pico de gayo. The street taco you would have in East L.A. is just your corn tortillas, your carne asada (that’s your steak), cilantro, onions and whatever salsa you chose. We recommend red hot, green mild or medium salsa verde. It’s just simple food. We just squirt some lime juice on it and it brings out the flavor so much more. It’s so delicious.

For burritos, we use Mexican rice, made with chicken stock, tomato sauce, garlic, onions, peas and carrots. It’s a really good layered rice. For me, that’s the perfect burrito. Back in my neighborhood where I order that, it’s called the combination burrito because it has rice, beans and meat.

It seems like the decision to do this was spontaneous. Have you always had a love for food and did you envision yourself owning a restaurant? Never. Never. Before this, I worked at a luxury furniture company and I loved that job. I was a stay-at-home mom after that for a while.

My whole thing is I was born and raised in East L.A. as a third generation American. My grandparents were from Mexico, but I consider myself more Californian than anything else. It was really born out of a frustration of not being able to find Los Angeles-style tacos out here.

Since I’ve opened, I’ve met more Californians during the first three months we were open than the 10 years I’d spent in Maine previous to that. Californians come out of the woodwork to find me. From Ontario, Barstow, Long Beach, a guy who lived in California 40 years ago who said it’s always been hard to get tacos out here. It’s the story you hear time and time again.

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