Born in 1932, just before the Great Depression hit, Maureen Flores was the daughter of Mexican immigrants Francisco and Delores Guzman. Although married (to Eustacio Flores Sr.) and the mother of young children, Maureen Flores decided to go into business for herself in 1966, pulling her carefully saved money literally out of her mattress and buying her uncle’s restaurant at Dale and Grand in St. Paul, re-christening it La Cucaracha.
Flores rallied her family to support the business: she kept a low profile herself, letting her husband serve as the public face of the restaurant—though she really ran the show. “My mother was the type who wanted to stay in the background,” remembers her daughter Gina, who now runs La Cucaracha with her sister Nina. Gina and her siblings pitched in washing dishes, sweeping the floor, and taking out the trash.
As the children grew older, they took a more active role in managing the business. Maureen Flores’s late son Bobby was particularly active, says Gina, “pounding the pavement and door-knocking to introduce the restaurant to local businesses and the public at large.” The restaurant originally occupied only a small space, but eventually grew; the family now owns the entire building where the restaurant is located. At times, the family has also owned restaurants in Minneapolis and Woodbury.
A period during which she kept to a vegan diet inspired Gina to add vegetarian dishes to La Cucaracha’s menu. “It made me more conscious of what goes into my body,” she says. “We now use only organic fruits and vegetables, and fresh chicken—the cooks de-bone the chicken themselves.” They use only stainless steel pots and pans, which increases health and sanitation. The kids’ menu features hormone-free milk and no trans fats.
The entrepreneurial legacy of Maureen “Mama” Flores has also been an influence on her granddaughter Estrella, who founded Stellar One, Inc., a commercial office cleaning business. Estrella Flores is passing her family values on to her 11-year-old daughter, who is making and selling specialty baskets.
“Mama” Flores died in 2002. La Cucaracha is now a Crocus Hill landmark, a testament to the love and dedication of one of St. Paul’s most remarkable women.
Steven Wagner is a native of Minnesota, just returning after a four-year absence. He’s been known as a musician, a Realtor, a mortgage broker, an independent producer out of the MTN and SPNN studios producing shows as Under Attack, Uplife Gospel Hour, and This is Music.