This is the first in what I hope is a series of posts featuring parents who are doing really incredible things for, inspired by or with, their children.
I want to start with Linda Mulholland, owner of Cocina DeLeon in Brookfield. Linda is a wife, mother, writer and phenomenal cook who, when faced with potentially dire circumstances, rolled up her sleeves, and a lot of tortillas, to create a clever business and a long-term solution for her family.
Linda’s inspiration was Cocina DeLeon, now a store in Brookfield selling freshly made, locally sourced enchiladas that are frozen so you can take them home and make them on your own schedule. How do you come up with an idea that’s a little unusual but so appealing? You start with a charming, energetic woman who is an excellent writer and who has an understanding of how to market a product, as well as a serious desire for success. You add a willing husband with years of business experience and some unexpected extra time. You add delicious food and then stand back and let the customers come.
A few years ago, Linda’s husband had lost his job as vice president at a local manufacturing company and the family was facing the same financial fear so many others were when the economy was really tanking. About a year later, Linda, a writer who’s column appears each month in Metroparent Magazine, realized she wasn’t going to be able to ramp up her freelance writing fast enough to support her family. Just in time, she got the cartoon lightbulb, the sign from God, whatever you want to call it, that started her on the road to Cocina DeLeon.
“In a one week time span, one of my friends was in the hospital, another friend’s mother had died and another’s daughter was in the hospital with a grave illness,” Linda remembers. “I did what I always do: I made my mother’s enchiladas. And each one of them said I should think about selling them.”
Linda sent out an email to everyone she could think of, explaining that she was beginning a catering company and would be selling the enchiladas in a few different varieties. She says within a short amount of time, she was selling them all over town and had to rent a commercial kitchen to fill the orders. Not long after that, a story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel helped fuel even more sales.
That’s when she came up with another idea: why not open a storefront to sell the enchiladas, freshly made and frozen? She said she and her husband thought it was a better way to expand than opening a more traditional restaurant.
“I’m not a restaurateur, it’s s a different lifestyle,” Linda says. “There are so many good restaurants, that’s not really the thing I want to do. I’m more into copy and the design, my husband has all that manufacturing experience.”
At Cocina DeLeon, located in Galleria West in Brookfield, customers buy food created from recipes Linda’s mother brought from Mexico. The enchiladas come with all sorts of choices for fillings like the expected traditional varieties, vegetarian options, shrimp and chorizo, or the Manchilada, with rib-eye and blue cheese. There are also chips and some beyond-addictive dips, desserts, and more.
Linda said the opportunity to provide customers with delicious food, made with local products, and obviously, to find a way to support her family, are major motivations for going to work every day. So is the fact that she is creating a thriving business that employs three people outside their family as well as, someday, her son, who has cerebral palsy.
“It’s always been my dream to have a business for Andrew to work at some day,” Linda says. “There is 78% unemployment for people with disabilities”
Andrew works at Cocina DeLeon in the summers when he’s not in school and, Linda says, he has a great rapport with customers. He tells his mother he wants to be a writer when he grows up, but Linda hopes Cocina DeLeon’s success means he’ll always have an option for supporting himself.
With Linda and her husband’s incredible energy and careful planning, that should be no problem. Cocina DeLeon’s products are already available in several area grocery stores and more are joining the list. In fact, there is a good chance they will be adding even more employees to the payroll before the summer to keep up with demand. And in the meantime, you can always stop in for a bit of Linda’s bright spirit and her ridiculously delicious take on beer cheese dip.