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Business

How Restaurateur Miriam Jimenez Connects People Through Food

The founder of Miriam Cocina Latina shares how life in her home country of the Dominican Republic shaped her as a leader.
By  | |Photography Courtesy of Miriam Jimenez
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Girl Power Jimenez with her sisters Ade (right), and Nere (front) and their cousins at Ade’s high school graduation Courtesy of Miriam Jimenez

Alfrida “Miriam” Jimenez brings a taste of her native Dominican Republic to Dallas through Miriam Cocina Latina, an eatery near Klyde Warren Park that she opened with restaurateur Shannon Wynne in 2019. She moved to New York in 2004 after studying business in her homeland and made her way to Dallas three months later. Here, Jimenez shares lessons from her journey. 

“I grew up in the beautiful city of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic, where community is a strength. If you have a dysfunctional family, you find family in friends. Being Dominican means having a deep pride in our roots and culture. We enjoy ourselves by dancing merengue, eating good food, and spending days on the beach. I carry my home’s sense of hospitality. Being the soul of a party comes easily to me. I always want to unite people and cook a meal to share. In the Dominican Republic, I studied business administration, then worked for UNESCO and the United Nations. I had a lot of contact with people outside of my island and learned that I am a natural hostess.  

“Connecting people through food is in my blood. In Santo Domingo, my grandparents ran a restaurant and food stand. My grandfather taught me the importance of human relationships and intentional connection with your clients. I learned how to run a business from watching him work and was inspired by his leadership based on fostering genuine relationships, a lesson I carry with me to this day. 

“I left for the states with my sisters, hoping for more opportunities and not wanting to be left alone on the island. I had nothing to lose and an adventure right in front of me. I saw my sisters’ dedication to move and told myself, ‘If they can do it, then I can do it.’ We encouraged and supported each other to be successful. When I arrived in New York, I had to re-learn how to live and enjoy life compared to how it was on our beautiful island, where everything was easier, but opportunities were limited. I knew I could take care of myself no matter what.  

“When I came to the states, I started working as a waitress, even though I had no formal experience… My first year here was a lot of hard work. I always had to be steps ahead to navigate a new country, new city, and new language. My move to Dallas made me realize I always have to be, and do, my best because I am so easily identifiable as a Dominican woman…Although there is a strong Mexican population in Dallas, I felt like a novelty even in the Latino community, with a different accent and appearance. For years, I have come home with my clothes smelling of food, but I know this is part of keeping my promise to myself of continuing to move forward. I tell myself, ‘No matter what I have to do, I am going to do it.’ 

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An engaging portrait of Jimenez hangs over the bar at Miriam Cocina Latina. Courtesy of Miriam Jimenez

“Confidence has set my journey apart to be successful. Today, I am not scared to try new things, and I see how believing in my resilience has benefited me professionally. My story is not unique, but it is different in that I choose only to seek the positive and find the good to this day. This journey of immigration and taking on new challenges has been an educational process helping me develop emotionally, personally, and professionally. You have to fight, and you have to do it well. 

“My immigration journey has helped me become a leader who understands and is sensitive to the difficult sacrifices my team may have made to be here today. Their strength inspires me, and as a leader, I want to be their encouragement and help, just as they are for me. My immigration journey has taught me that I am an ambassador for my country. I bring the hospitality of the Dominican Republic. It is contagious to share who we are as a country: full of joy and fun. I think the combination of my immigration experience and the Dominican in me loves to make people feel at home wherever they are, especially in my restaurant. I love to serve, take care of, and give cariñito [an expression of love and affection.] I am beyond grateful for every person who lets me cook for them and share a part of my country. It is the highest honor.” 

This interview was translated from Spanish.

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