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Meet Maria Corbalan

by Jennifer Marine

ome people might be surprised to learn that Maria Corbalan has been in Austin for 19 years, because she still has the kind of enthusiasm for the city as that of a newcomer. A native of Argentina, sheís the hardworking owner of Taco Express, a stuffed-and-folded slice of heaven on South Lamar that fulfills some serious Mexican food addictions this side of the river. Musicians, politicians, kids and construction workers, youíll find all types at Taco Express, salivating and perusing the funky, arty walls while waiting patiently in line.  And although Maria doesn't have children, per se, she does in fact nurture a very large, devout, hungry "family" of taco-aficionados. 

This is Maria's third business in eight years at the present location -- a Mexican gift shop went by the wayside (anyone remember Curiosity Killed the Cat?), along with a convenience store, Sugar and Spice. She opened a little trailer on the spot four years ago to the chorus of Are you crazy? from friends. Youíre next to Mattís El Rancho and Kerbey Lane and youíre going to open up a shack with five tables? they chided. Initially, it looked like they might be right: 17 dollars a day wasnít going to cut it. But three months into Taco Express, the Austin American Statesman did their first article on her, and she watched her sales jump to 300 dollars a day.

Trailer-days behind her, Maria now has 18 employees, a thriving business, and potential investors pleading with her to open a chain. Fat chance, sheíll tell you. Sheís happy with the way things are.

Three businesses, a tiny, hot trailer; persistence is a watchword with Maria. She'd traveled all three Americas alone before she was 19, and couldnít speak English when she first moved here. Sheís lived in Columbia, Jamaica, Las Vegas, New York -- even writing a book about her travels in the process, (sheíll add more as her life unfolds.) Through trial and error, she finally found something that worked, and now sheís hoping to take a little time, after three years of 16 hour days, to stop and smellÖ something other than tacos.

Here's what Maria had to say:

What two notable people would you like to see handcuffed together for a day?

Damn! I donít knowÖ Bin Laden and Bush? Nothing good would come of itÖ WowÖ Well, probably two people that love each other. If you handcuffed two people that donít, it would be hard to do thatÖ I donít know who though, two people that could have a good time, go into a room and cut the lights, give them a whipÖ (wicked laugh)

Who inspired you when you were growing up and why?

I had an aunt that inspired me a lot -- she wrote poetry for kids, she had a beautiful little house that always smelled good. She was free, she always traveled, she was very elegant. A lot of people followed her because she was fun and witty and open, she was a good one, I adored her.

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The Countess Galleria / Sarah Higdon

You are face to face with your ten-year-old self. You have one thing to say to her about her future, what do you say?

Donít worry about it, youíre gonna make it all better.

What is the biggest problem you see mothers being faced with today?

Reality honey, thereís a lot of drugs out there, a lot of a nasty, very serious bloody shows, guns at school, actually everything! The world is very aggressive, there are wars everywhere, AIDS now, all kinds of dishonesty and greediness. Itís very hard to be a good parent, thatís why Iím not one -- if Iím not going to be a good one, then Iíll just have dogs!

What do you see as your biggest challenge in being the kind of person you want to be?

That I have a promise to myself to do one good thing a day. I donít care if itís to a person I know, or a stranger or to a dog. One good act, if all of us would do one good thing a day, if weíd all stop being so envious and nasty, this world would be so much better. So, for all of us, I guess, not to be a pain in the ass!

What makes you most happy about what you give back to the world?

I donít do things to be appreciated, but I love it when someone says thank you. I love to do good things for people.

Tell me about Taco Express, itís kind of like the Mexican version of an English pub.

Itís our home down here, thatís what I want. I want people to give hugs and kisses when they get there, for people to all know each other, to be homey. To be a place maybe down the road when you get old, and say, (with affection) remember that little shack?! Iíve had people offer me money, to do chains, to open other places, and I say no, then you start cheating your name. This is perfect. I mean I wish I had a better kitchen, more tables inside and everything, but then again, what it is is what Iíve got, and Iím happy, Weíre never content with what we haveÖso enjoy what youíve got and fuck it, right? Itís one of a kind, itís a fun business, I get to know neighbors, my friends, I get to give more personalized attention. Itís my baby.

What do you wish you could automatically grant, like a fairy godmother, to mothers during trying times?

Peace of mind. A lot of money to go to the shrink, a good massage, some time to get a pedicure, a maid, but basically, some peace of mind.

Thanks Maria!

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