Why you should consider it:
The climate is great, the cost of living is low and the city has a fast-growing food-and-drink and arts scene.
Who it’s good for:
Mexico is the Spanish speaking entry point for businesses before they’re rolled out to all of Latin America, so for entrepreneurs, the Mexican capital is a good place to be. It’s also close to the US geographically.
Mexico City has a rising middle class and with that come plenty of opportunities and rising living standards.
The average age in Mexico is just 28 years old, which goes a long way to explaining how and why youth culture seems to be taking over Mexico City. For young adults, the allure is often increasing opportunity and low cost of living; those who move here predominantly settle in the Roma and Condesa neighbourhoods, but the nearby areas of San Rafael, Narvarte and Escandón also have a diverse cultural, food and drink scene, with plenty of new businesses and brands being set up here.
Mexico's Little Tokyo
Over the past few years, Edo López has been building a Japanese-inspired restaurant group in the city. Here he explains its evolution.
In 2013, when Edo López opened his pint-sized sushi counter, Rokai, Mexico City had very few Japanese restaurants. ‘There were some [that had been around] since the sixties and seventies,’ Edo says, ‘as there had been migration from Japan – but it was Japanese food done in a Mexican way. I wanted to do it in a simpler, more traditional manner. If you’re doing sushi, you’re doing sushi – not a hundred other dishes.’
Edo was born in Tijuana but has Japanese ancestry. After dropping out of two universities and pursuing a career in music in California, he made a foray into food with help and funding from Eduardo García, one of Mexico City’s most renowned chefs. Today, Edo’s restaurant group has 18 locations – plus a ryokan-hotel – across Mexico and the US, each one offering something different, from high-end sushi to simple ramen. For example, Le Tachinomi Desu, in Mexico City, which mixes Japanese izakaya style food with organic French wines – a marriage that naturally appealed to the millennial generation in town, as well as the cohorts of tourists.
‘There are a lot of opportunities in Mexico City,’ says Edo. ‘Together with Copenhagen and Japan, it is one of the three main food destinations in the world, in my opinion. Middle Eastern food is going to be big here next. It’s been done but not done well – yet.’
‘I was overwhelmed by the artisanship.’
Why Joana Valdez and Karim Molina, co-founders of Ayres Estudio, are just two of many independent designers that have moved to Mexico City in recent years.
Since the fifties, foreign designers have been flocking to Mexico City in search of unique raw materials, cheap studio space and talented craftsmanship. The influx hasn’t stopped. ‘Moving here from Venezuela, I was overwhelmed by the depth of the artisanship. Mexico is so much more advanced in this respect than countries in South America,’ says Karim Molina, from Venezuela, who co-founded the Ayres design studio in 2014 with Joana Valdes.
Despite such natural boons, launching a product is hardly a straightforward matter; finding the right artisan to realise your design can be incredibly complex, not least because they often live in small, sometimes indigenous, communities based in far-flung areas. ‘You can’t just turn up and ask them to make X number of this, as foreigners often try to do,’ says Joana. ‘These artisans are not normally open to contemporary design and they struggle to communicate – don’t count on them having mobile phones. You have to do lots of research and have patience.’
Mexico City’s exponential popularity boom has made property prices spike in popular neighbourhoods like Roma Norte and Condesa: property website Lamudi estimates at least a 37.5% rise in the price of Condesa accommodations between 2003 and 2019. This has meant that designers have had to look for studios elsewhere. ‘We moved to Colonia Doctores two years ago,’ says Karim, referring to the formerly rough neighbourhood to the east of Roma, ‘when there weren’t really any design studios or restaurants there. Now there are and the neighbourhood is going through a rebrand.’
‘Anything overblown and overpriced is being sifted out.’
Scarlett Lindeman is the chef-founder of Cicatriz, an all day cafe bar-restaurant in Mexico City. Here she talks about what makes the city so great for people in the food-and-drink industry.
When Scarlett Lindeman swapped New York for Mexico City, she thought she would leave behind her cheffing career, too. ‘I was studying the Mexican community in New York City and transnational food. I thought I was going to be an academic.’ But, arriving in 2014, she found the subject of her research more exciting and rife with opportunity than she’d imagined.
Rent was cheap and the restaurant scene had gaps that could be plugged. ‘My brother, Jake, came down; we thought about opening something that mimicked that sense of community that restaurants I’d worked at in Brooklyn tended to foster.’
In 2017, they opened Cicatriz, a space that spills out onto a little square in Colonia Juárez, a rough-and-tumble neighbourhood a bit outside the tourist-beaten circuit. ‘In Mexico City, in terms of legality, working with the city and regulation – it’s this grey area. You can be as close to legality as possible but the city can penalise you – effectively extort you – for whatever they want. But there’s a lot of freedom in that. In New York, you file paperwork and wait for two months. Here it’s a DIY spirit.’
In the past few years, Mexico City’s rise has attracted its fair share of restaurateurs, inflating and saturating the hospitality scene, but this is set to change – especially after the pandemic. ‘Mexico City has gotten so hot: the arts, fashion, food and music got upscaled. Rents were rising. It was geared to a foreigner’s wallet. [Now] there’s been a sifting-out of things that were overblown and overpriced.’
Find more of the top cities for starting something new in 2021.
This article was first published in Courier Issue 37, October/November 2020. To purchase the full issue or become a subscriber, head to our webshop.