There are several things that come to mind when you think of San Antonio; Selena, the Alamo, Tejanos, maybe even a band called Los Tejanos del Alamo. But, what about vegan food? Rebeca aka La Rebel Mariposa, owner of Botánica, is about to change that. In fact, she is part of the new movement by locals in San Antonio challenging the way we eat.
Walking into Botánica is like walking into your Tia Luisa’s house but without the assorted collection of Quinceañera recuerdos. You are instantly met with a smell of slow cooked enchipotlada, enough candles to supply a San Anto church, and an array of yerba curanderas need a to heal any illness of the body or spirit.
From a diverse menu of huehuecoyotl ceviche to southern sweet calas, La Botánica is the place where Chipsters (Chican@ hipsters) can bring their parents for a Friday night dinner or have a couple of Mezcalaritas with bae.
La Botánica is the first full vegan restaurant and full bar in Texas, an accomplishment which stands on its own. Yet, Botánica has also become a community space where different organizations hold fundraising events, local artist display their work and where regular cooking classes for under 21-year old girls are held.
I sat down with Rebel Mariposa to learn more of the delicious recipe for La Botánica.
What inspired La Botánica, from the food that you serve to the decor of the restaurant?
Bottom line, it is about the realization that food and drinks, they can either be a poison or they can be a medicine. For me, it is this idea that food should be healing, it should be a nourishing. Yes, it serves the purpose of us consuming something to stay alive but if you consume the right things you have a better life, you have more energy. My great grandmother passed the day I was conceived and she was a curandera and one of the other owner’s grandmother was a curandera as well. For us, the decor became this homage to our grandmothers, it became this honoring of our cultura, of our traditions, of medicine, of healing and using plants to heal, of using alternative medicine to heal. So people could see vegan as an alternative way of eating even though most of our ancestors grew up on a vegan diet, they just would never call it vegan. And that’s the thing too, nowhere in my restaurant does it say vegan because I don’t want it to be about that; I want it to be about really good food that just happens to be vegan.
“Food can either be a poison or a medicine”
What makes Botánica unique in San Antonio from any other restaurant?
I think for one, we are the first full bar and full vegan restaurant in the whole state of Texas. Second, we’re majority run by women which is very rare to find in the restaurant world. You might have women working in the restaurants, but you don’t have a lot of women running them. We do have two male owners and we do have males on staff, but all of them know that it is the women who are calling the shots around here, so I think that makes it a really unique space. It is also very queer run and friendly, I’m just saying all these combined makes it a unique space. Also, we’re a group of young kids, the four of us that run it, we’re all from working class brown families. We are all Mexicanos who are all hard workers and I think we still kind of pinch ourselves thinking, is this really happening?
“We are the first full bar and full vegan restaurant in the whole state of Texas. Second, we’re majority run by women which is very rare to find in the restaurant world”
A spinoff on that, on the four young brown kids from working class families running La Botanica, do you think there is a certain level of consciousness that is fighting the gentrification that is happening around the world but specifically in San Antonio?
Absolutely. Danny Constante, which is one of the business partners, we met at UTSA in M.E.Ch.A. We were both in Mecha together so we already both came from these political backgrounds where our friendship began. I was born in 1980, I’ve been around San Antonio for a long time and both my mothers are artists, I grew up in the Guadalupe Theater whether backstage or rehearsing, doing spoken word, writing plays. San Antonio has always had this really amazing art scene but it has always been kind of underground but in the last five years because of the mayor and different money that has funneled in now the art scene is in the forefront, but it wasn’t like that. I knew there was a part of me that wanted to come back from San Diego because I wanted to make sure that I could help with part of the growth that was going on in my hometown and it wasn’t just people coming in from other states or countries with money who can. They have the privilege where they can just come in whenever they want and buy a property and start whatever they want and appropriate our culture. Thats’s going to happen everywhere around the nation but we can be a little bit of that resistance and keep true to San Antonio’s culture for our future generations. Thats a big reason why behind me and Andrea, Danny, and Alan, we do this.
“We can be a little bit of that resistance and keep true to San Antonio’s culture for our future generations.”
I want to get back to the fact that you are a woman and you are running Botánica and running the kitchen. Have you faced any difficulties or pushback?
Yes, absolutely, in so many different ways. I got pushback even before the place opened. I’ve been scoffed at oh vegan food, woman, young, not culinary trained. I had to get over a lot of my fears and insecurities even before this placed opened. Before we opened it it was mainly me and Micheal working on the space so after people noticed we were working on it we would get different reps who’d come in. First of all, they would come in and and ask me “Hey is the owner here?” and I’m like “Yes, I’m one of the owners” and they were taken aback a little bit and then I would get treated differently. Or I would get called, I hate it when I get called “sweetheart” things like that. I had to be very strong with my reps. I’m a business person so I expect the best quality and I expect people to do their work. I am very demanding and I’m pretty tough. Even within the kitchen, we’ve had some people come in here, a couple of men, that was hard for them to deal with a woman running the kitchen and that there are women that are the bosses. And we’ve gotten some pushback so they are no longer with us. Now when I interview men I ask them “Are you ok with a woman being your boss?” You can tell that there are people that have never been asked that question. But that’s the culinary world too. It’s like any other profession whether it be being a doctor or being a teacher or any other profession, when you take it into a professional field it becomes men centric so the women are the nurses and men are the doctors. Well here in the food world, the women are the cooks and the men are the chefs. Men get the titles men get the money. I get a lot of phone calls from different organizations who say “Wow would you do this dinner for us? We are looking for women chefs and we are actually really surprised how little there are in San Antonio” It’s sad because I know theres a lot of really really great women out there on the cook line but they are not being recognized as chefs. But in response to that, we get way more encouragement than we get push back. People LOVE this place. They love the energy. My favorite thing is when people come in and say “Ahh I just love the way it feels. It feels so good in here I want to come back” I love it when some of the bartenders from the other bars bring their mothers here. It’s a type of place where you can bring your mama to. I LOVE that these chicanos bringing their mamas here to try the food!
“When I interview men, I ask them ‘Are you OK with a woman being your boss?'”
I want to speak on the women that are the leaders here, the new paradigm that you are very much a part of creating. Not to put any pressure but eyes are on you, young eyes. How does that make you feel?
For me it is, there is a lot of pressure but at the same time I accepted that. Not because I want a little girl to look at me and say I want to be like her I want them to be able to look and say hey theres another brown woman with dark hair dark eyes having their own business. We did a cooking class for twenty 13-under 21 year olds, there was only one light skinned girl. Everyone else was either brown or black. I talked to them and I said “Look I own this. This is something that you can do but I worked really hard at it. I didn’t really have other women to look up to but now you do”. That’s what drives me, that’s what gets me up in the morning and its why Im here. Just thinking of different women in Botánica it is really amazing how quickly it has happened. I am being surrounded by really talented women and we’re working with each other, for each other, supporting each other. It’s like for the first time in my life, I can see patriarchy going away.
“I am being surrounded by really talented women and we’re working with each other, for each other, supporting each other. For the first time in my life, I can see patriarchy going away”
What do you see the future of Botánica as?
I see it to continue to be more of what it already is. I see as the city grows and things shift I see people catching up to what we are doing here. I see it busier way busier I see more employees I see more events. I also feel like Botanica is training ground for all sorts of people. I would love to see people start here then people go do art or do their own things. I’d love to do more cooking classes for children. Considering we have only been open for only 2 and a half months, we have already done quiet a bit of community events. I love how different organizations want to use this space too, its really diverse.
Check out more of La Botánica at vivalabotanica.com.