If you happen to find yourself hungry while vacationing in Mexico City, the first person you should call is Rocio Vazquez Landeta. Not only does her food tour company, Eat Like a Local, introduce visitors to the city’s diverse cuisines via authentic local spots, it also prioritizes women’s empowerment in everything it does. For starters (pun intended), Eat Like a Local boasts an all-female team, and is specifically dedicated to helping single mothers in Mexico City become more financially solvent.
Vazquez Landeta didn’t start traveling herself until just 5 years ago, at the age of 30, and she quickly tired of the tourist menus and lackluster tours. Fifteen days into a trip she was in Istanbul when she had drinks with a group of homeless men who then showed her their city — where to get the best fish sandwiches, where to have a beer next to the Blue Mosque — and she came home inspired to found Eat Like a Local and create that welcomed, insider feel for people visiting her home of Mexico City. She sat down with us to share what makes every tour so personal — even though they draw up to 200 participants per month — and her dedication to improving her community, one authentic local meal at a time.
In what ways does Eat Like a Local give back to the community?
We have several social programs. The first is called 80IQ, and it allows us to teach English to 18 kids from the Tacubaya and La Merced neighborhoods, twice a week. The girls from 80IQ that live at La Merced market work with us as guides. They practice their English and get paid to hang out with people from all over the world.
We also have a program called Zero Hunger, which is essentially a company policy that says we will feed anybody who approaches the tour — from homeless people to the elderly to children, it doesn’t matter — if they ask for food, we provide it for free.
Finally, we have our Market to Market program. With this, we create alliances between the Jamaica and Merced markets and hotels, gourmet markets, restaurants and chefs from Roma, Polanco, Condesa and other hip neighborhoods. This allows small producers to sell their products to different people and gives them a different approach for their businesses.
What successes are you particularly proud of?
We are the #2 food tour on TripAdvisor and that’s amazing because we are a very small company. It was me alone for three and a half years, and now there are five of us on the team in total. The competition is big, and other companies have lots of guides, a marketing budget, managers and photographers.
However, the thing that makes me the happiest and proudest is that my team always tells me that this is the best job they have ever had, that they feel happy and productive, and that this has changed their lives. Also, the 80IQ program is my baby and I’m super proud of it. I think that being able to changes peoples’ lives for the better is my greatest success.
What challenges have you experienced since the program started?
Lots! The first year was all me and then the company really started growing. It was a lot of fun, but also lots of work because I run tours even for one person. Sometimes I was running three tours a day for one person each. That’s 19 hours making little money, but I absolutely loved it. Now with the team, I get to rest and also to focus on creative things to grow the company. I do still host 60% of the tours though, and I will always do that because hosting people is my passion.
Speaking of a full plate, how do you recharge in your downtime?
I travel two months a year to disconnect and research, and every time I come back, I have new ideas. It’s truly my “me time,” but also I take lots of tours and learn from other companies. Also, I have simple routines like always napping with my dogs after the morning tours, and I try to exercise and to read and relax in my home.
What advice do you have for women thinking about starting their own business?
Be patient and choose something you love because it’s going to consume your time, your heart, your soul and your entire existence. Also, follow the “golden rule” when it comes to business. I give the same service I would like to receive, I do the tours I would like to take and I treat my team as I would like to be treated. There’s no way to go wrong with that.