Tag Archives: Michael Sanchez

Michael Sanchez’s Inspiration

August 5, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Why would a young, healthy finance graduate of California State University-San Marcos leave a prestigious and lucrative job in the world of Southern California banking to run a restaurant in Ralston?

For Michael Sanchez, a more appropriate question was, “How can I not do this?” 

In 2008, his grandmother Maria Sanchez, the woman he calls “my everything” and the namesake of the legendary Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, needed his help. Michael’s grandfather, Patrick, had died some years before. Maria was determined to carry on and manage a business they had started together in 1976. But when Maria turned 70, she knew the years were catching up with her. 

“Michael is like my husband because he’s really into the business side of the restaurant,” Maria says. Michael’s grandfather grew up in Colorado and was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base when he married Maria in 1959. While the couple lived overseas in Puerto Rico and the Philippines, Patrick set up a Mexican food cart on base during the weekends. The food cart was a hit with fellow service families. It eventually inspired their restaurant. 

Maria practically raised Michael from the time he was a baby. “He’s a creator,” she says, acknowledging the grandson inherited her husband’s financial acumen. “I told him, ‘Come home, Michael. We’d love to have you.’”

“It took a lot of planning, mostly over the phone, to make the arrangements for me to come back [as majority owner and operator],” says Michael, 35. “Because she’s so passionate and wants the best for her business and her employees, I think she wanted to advance the business, but she just didn’t have the wherewithal.” 

Michael knew exactly how to advance the family business when he returned to Ralston. His vision coincided with the same thing customers had been telling his grandmother for years: Maria’s didn’t have enough space. 

A remodel and expansion job began immediately on the Burlington Street restaurant in the heart of Ralston. Michael added a party room and doubled the seating capacity. Ten years later, the growing popularity of Maria’s signature fried puffy tacos taxes the new floor plan. 

“Even now that we’ve expanded, it’s a long wait sometimes,” says Maria, in what may be the understatement of the year. Patrons congregate outside the restaurant before the doors open. 

After unleashing his inner entrepreneur, Michael embarked on a creative and professional tear. 

Over the past decade the Creighton Prep product has added a satellite Maria’s Mexican Restaurant inside the Ralston Arena, created the sensational Mula in Omaha’s hip Blackstone District, developed a new taco eatery in Benson, drawn up plans for a fast-casual dining experience, earned a graduate degree in business from Creighton University (completed in one year), and won a seat on the Ralston City Council. In addition, he helps raise two sons, ages 12 and 9.

Michael grew up at Maria’s (“My crib was in the back office of the restaurant,” he says) and can perform every job within his businesses. Although he prefers working outside the kitchen, his vast knowledge of Mexican food has paid dividends in his business ventures.

“Living in California and traveling often to Mexico opened my eyes to how many varieties of Mexican food there are,” he says. “Omaha-style Mexican is very similar to Maria’s, which has a heavy Texas influence. It’s all about sauces, cheese, and beans.”

The Tex-Mex influence comes naturally to Maria. “My mother was raised in Texas,” she says. “We use her recipes. We’ve used them from the beginning, when Patrick cooked.”

As he conceptualized a culinary creation of his own, Michael strived to bridge the gap between Americanized Mexican food and the traditional fare immigrant families dish up along Omaha’s South 24th Street—fare similar to the street food made-to-order from vendor carts on Mexican street corners.

He chose to establish Mula (Spanish for mule) at 40th and Farnam streets because he felt the community would travel there to sample his contemporary version of Mexican street food. The location struck gold. 

“When we moved here to the Blackstone District in 2014, there was nothing around, I mean nothing,” Michael says with a touch of awe. “Now it’s become the hottest part of the city.”

Relying on social media and word-of-mouth, Mula found its footing within a year and exceeded expectations. 

The décor reflects the Old World, with statues and icons of the Virgin Mary and colorful votive candles with images of saints lined across the back bar. Hundreds of bottles of tequila rest on rustic bookshelves, giving credence to Mula’s billing as a “Mexican Kitchen and Tequileria.”

Diners experience flavors outside the realm of taco seasoning, with fresh red cabbage, chile crema, a splash of citrus, and “a hint of vanilla” integrated into some of the offerings. Unlike many Mexican restaurants, portions at Mula don’t rival the size of houseboats, although the tortas, Mexican sandwiches stuffed with meat, can easily feed two. 

With Mula running smoothly, Michael turned to a simpler concept and a new restaurant debuting this summer: Taco Co. at 61st and Maple streets in Benson, a margarita garden that pays homage to his grandmother. 

“We serve nothing but margaritas and her fried puffy tacos,” he says, referring to the pita bread-like quality of the taco shell. “We also have finger food, salsa, and guac.”

Always one to stay up on trends in the business, Michael and his trusty culinary director, chef Kyle Lamb, have an idea for a line of fast-casual restaurants. “Counter service, not full service, is the largest growing segment,” he says matter-of-factly.

While Michael plans for the future, his beloved grandmother, whose smooth skin and bright smile belie her age, basks in the goodwill bestowed on her at the restaurant. As she welcomes third- and fourth-generation customers to Maria’s, she takes comfort knowing her family’s culinary legacy will continue for years to come. 


Visit mariasralston.com to learn more about Maria’s in Ralston, visit mulaomaha.com for Mula in Blackstone, and find Taco Co. on Facebook at @handmadetacos.

This article was printed in the July/August 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

Mula Mexican Kitchen & Tequileria

February 11, 2015 by and
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Omaha has always had its own unique take on Mexican food. Things like puffy tacos, enchiladas made with flour tortillas, and margaritas made with Rose’s lime juice can be found at just about every Mexican restaurant in town. Some may be surprised to learn that you would be hard pressed to find any of those things in Mexico. Mula, which opened in June, decided to buck this trend by serving authentic Mexican street food.

Owner Michael Sanchez is no stranger to the Omaha style of Mexican food. His Grandmother is Maria, the namesake of the famed Maria’s Mexican Restaurant in Ralston. Sanchez has been running Maria’s for the last several years and has shown his talents by upping the ante at Maria’s in most every way. Regardless of his local knowledge of the ins and outs of Omaha-style Mexican food, he has decided to take a risk and serve a much more traditional style of Mexican food at Mula.

The restaurant is located on the corner of 39th and Farnam. The outer brick building gives way to a beautiful modern interior that is well-designed but not “over designed.” I really liked the rustic wooden table tops, the pewter-colored bar top, and the bright orange walls. It’s a very handsome space.

The menu is straightforward and mainly consists of appetizers, tacos, and tortas, which are basically the Mexican version of a sandwich. There is also a variety of salsas, guacamoles, and side dishes to choose from and, of course, authentic churros for dessert just like you would buy on a street corner in Mexico. Everything is a la carte, so it’s fun to just order a taco or three at a time, kind of like you would do when eating sushi. At $2.50 a taco, it’s certainly a lot cheaper than sushi and, for me, much more enjoyable.

On a recent visit, we sampled the Queso Flameado Appetizer ($7). This delicious dip features boracho beans, queso chihuahua, ancho chili, chicharrones, and pepita (pumpkin seed) salsa. We also tried the Huevo Con Chorizo Appetizer ($6.5). This was soft boiled egg served with some of the best chorizo I have had in ages topped with a zesty salsa verde. We also tried a plethora of different tacos including Al Pastor Taco ($2.5), Carnitas Taco ($2.5), Baja Fish Taco ($2.5) and Carne Asada Taco ($2.5). All of the tacos were outstanding and went well with the Salsa Flight ($12) that I ordered to dress them up. The salsas included a Charred Pineapple Salsa, Roasted Tomato Salsa and a Tomatillo Salsa. All of which were top notch. We also tried the Machaca Torta ($8) and the Chicken Tinga Torta ($8). The tortas are much bigger than the tacos. Almost a meal in themselves, the tortas are suitable for sharing. They come on a freshly baked telera bread with sliced tomatoes, charred jalapenos, avocado, black bean spread, shredded lettuce, house crema, and roasted garlic mayonnaise. Combined with Mula’s great proteins, these sandwiches are incredible. Of course, we also had to try Mula’s Green Rice and Boracho Beans ($5). These were great and probably the most authentic beans and rice I have ever had in Omaha. As if all of this was not enough I also managed to take a couple of bites out of an order of Churros ($6). If you have ever had these on the street in Mexico, you know how good they can be. Mula manages to duplicate this experience.

The food at Mula is some of the best Mexican food I have had in Omaha or, for that matter, in the entire Midwest. Couple that with the service also being excellent. I was particularly impressed with my server’s knowledge of traditional Mexican flavors and ingredients. I have yet to even mention the bar, but I can tell you it has everything you could want in a Mexican Tequileria, including, by my slightly tipsy count, over 160 tequilas.

All of which combines to make Mula a place that everyone reading this should make a point of checking out. If you’re like me and favor a more traditional style of Mexican food, you’re going to love Mula! Cheers!

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