How did you get involved with real estate in Tucson?
I’m from Mexico. I came to the U.S. for college. My parents sent all of us from Mexico to school in the U.S. I went to school in San Diego. My parents were living in Tucson by then. I’d come here for Christmas and I was like, not in a million years am I moving to Tucson. After I finished school in San Diego in journalism, I thought: I’m going to be a TV person. In those days, Spanish TV networks were just starting. I got a job at Univision and I thought that was going to be my life.
And then my dad died and I came here to Tucson to stay with my mother. I started working for an ad agency, doing Spanish stuff for them. I don’t know how, but I just decided to get my real estate license. Why not? I had time. I worked for Tucson Realty and then I met Ron Schwabe, randomly, who happens to be my husband. He said, why are you at Tucson Realty, why don’t you just come work for Peach Properties?
How did you get into the restaurant business?
Ron had Tooley’s, and the little restaurant was going to close. I said, “You can’t close it, people love it.” So he said, “You can have it, it’s yours.” And I had never worked in a restaurant. Not a waitress, a server—nothing.
In his jobs, Ron has always had workers, and some workers bring food. One of his workers always had really nice food, homemade food. It always smelled nice. So I asked him, “Does your wife work?” He said, “No.” So I called her and she said, “I’ve never worked in restaurants but if you need help, I’ll go help you.” And she worked for us for almost 20 years. She became the backbone of Tooley’s. It was homecooked food and I think that’s what people loved about Tooley’s.
How has Peach Properties supported the revitalization
of downtown Tucson?
Creating pockets has been something we both love. Pockets are neighborhoods. The building has to work and it has to feel like it works all together.
I helped with the leasing of Sparkroot, with the leasing of Yoga Oasis. I chased those two guys. They signed almost the same week. Ari and Darren are complementary to each other, to the vision. Ron and I try to be very aware of renting to people that would grow with each other. That’s what I mean with my pockets.
The same with the Market Inn building. It stayed empty for a while. People called, and their vision was different than what we thought would work in that building. And now it works: we have Tap + Bottle, Exo, and the Old Market Inn Tile Shop. That’s something that we have grown into and matured—how to have a vision and not just rent to anyone.
I think that almost every space should have food. Too many restaurants is sometimes overwhelming—people can’t eat from restaurant to restaurant. That’s why you need some retail, a museum, or a gallery, or something to break it up. But you need food. It’s true with our experience with Tooley’s. That street was doing better when there was a place to go have a lemonade and a taco. It generated more of a community feel for that whole area.
How did Penca begin?
I started showing this space to restaurants from the foothills. At that time, six years ago, people would say, “Oh, it’s so far—nobody will walk that far.” And I was like, “Have you ever been to the Temple of Music and Art? Have you ever been to the symphony? Have you ever been to the Fox?”
I go home one night and I’m complaining—these people just don’t get it! And my husband goes, “Well then, you just do it.” And I said, “O.K.”
I was blessed to have some good hires in the beginning. My bar staff from Day 1 was very ambitious and creative and strong. I hired some good people in the kitchen who helped me create the menu. I want to maintain something that reflects the tradition of Central Mexico, and sometimes that’s harder because we’re not right there.
How did you build the menu?
It was based on my mother’s cooking. That was the food that she cooked. She grew up in a very traditional Mexico City family. Their day-to-day food is the food that has been cooking in Mexican families for hundreds of years.
We always use chile poblano for the chile relleno. Chile nogado was a traditional dish. Short ribs. Posole—I wanted to do the posole blanco. Turkey based, not red pork-based. A lot of black beans. I’m striving every day to bring a Mexican meal that reflects the way people eat in Mexico.
Do you work with any
We have good companies that provide us all our chiles. It’s not a local company but they are high quality chiles. We get all our corn masa from a local tortilla place. But do I know where the corn came from? No. You talk to Chris Bianco and he’ll tell you where the flour came from, but I’m not that. I wish I could be more like that. You need someone at the head of the restaurant really neurotic about doing it. Here our volume demands that we have consistency and the price point. That makes it harder.
What does a typical day
My day-to-day is not recommended for a healthy lifestyle. We have five kids together. The two older ones are out of the house now. The little ones are 14, 12, and 9. I come check on things here [at Penca], on our projects. For example, we’re doing an amazing bar book that talks about the spirits. Everything from mescal, tequila, rum, brandy, gin. But again—super controlling human—I want to pick the paper, I want to pick the fonts.
I’ve been on the board of Tu Nidito for the past five years. I was honored this year to be asked to be on the boards of The Loft and the Tucson Symphony. The symphony to me is a super important piece of our community. It shows that we are a city that understands culture and the growth that music brings to our community.
I love that at Penca we can support the different entertainment venues on this side of the city. I love when I come some evenings and everybody is like, older. It feels like a city. They’re having fun, having a glass of wine, eating dinner. It’s like, Oh yeah, our downtown has a wider demographic. I love it. I’m proud of that. ✜
Penca. 50 E. Broadway. 520.203.7681.
Megan Kimble is the managing editor of Edible Baja Arizona and the author of Unprocessed: My City-Dwelling Year of Reclaiming Real Food (William Morrow 2015).