Cicatriz: an essential space in the Juárez neighborhood

Both for its menu and its atmosphere, Cicatriz has become one of the favorite places for those who live in or usually visit the Juárez neighborhood in Mexico City. Brothers Jake and Scarlett Lindeman, from New York, opened the cafe - restaurant - bar in 2017, a few years after moving to the city, fascinated by its food, mezcal and culture. What could a couple of foreigners bring to this great metropolis? In the case of Cicatriz, quite a lot: a space that is neither very sophisticated nor totally popular, and where the small menu offers food based not on Mexican traditions, but on making the most of the freshness and flavor of the ingredients that are obtained. locally. (Among the dishes, the fried chicken sandwich stands out, an American classic not easily found on this side of the border, for example.)

We spoke with Jake Lindeman about the history of Cicatriz, the community they have created within the neighborhood, and the challenges they have faced almost a year ago, since the pandemic began:

First I would like to ask you, how did Scar start? 

Of course. My sister Scarlett, who is my partner, is a chef, and she was very interested in Mexican cuisine. She is studying for a Ph.D. in philosophy, and she came here to do some research, as she also writes about the cultural aspects of food. He came, fell in love with the city, and even worked for a time at a local restaurant. Later, when I graduated from university, I was very passionate about mezcal, I started visiting Mexico City and I also fell in love. When we realized that we both wanted to live here, we started talking about the possibility of opening a small cafe. That was about six and a half years ago, and when we started working on it it took a long time to open. We opened Cicatriz in 2017.
Credits: Débora Fossas
Why did you choose the Juárez neighborhood, what was it that attracted you to this area?

When we began to know the different neighborhoods of the city, we always liked Juárez compared to Roma or other areas, for its neighborhood vibe. Also, to be frank, the rental prices were much more affordable, especially considering that we wanted to open a casual cafe, which was not too expensive, with inexpensive options on the menu. The places in colonies like Rome, even at that time, were spaces with higher prices and with food a little less everyday; spaces more for special occasions than to spend any day.

So from the beginning they intended for Scar to be a casual place. 

Yes, from the beginning we seek to be in the middle. When we opened, we felt like there weren't as many places at that midpoint within these parts of the city. There were incredible restaurants, both very high-end restaurants and very good and accessible carts. But this idea of ​​using high-quality ingredients but in a very casual way was not very popular, and even now it is still difficult to find. So we wanted to sell natural wines or good rare mezcals, and at the same time serve simple but very beautiful eggs and bread. This did not exist in a place that was also cheap, where people could go regularly.
Scar has created a very strong and loyal community; there are always people and, almost always, at least half are people who go very often. Was this your intention when opening, or did it come organically?

I think everyone talks about wanting to create a community and a place that is strongly linked to the neighborhood, but it is something difficult to do. Perhaps the answer is that it was a combination of things that we both knew were missing. At that time, if you wanted a cocktail, you had to go to a special cocktail bar, or to a canteen, and I like both but I don't think there was a place that felt ... I guess like the places we liked in Nueva York, more casual but always with a lot of focus on quality and a relaxed atmosphere. I think we opened something we missed about our city, and it turned out that others also felt that something of this kind was missing. It's cool that there is a place where you can have a very good bottle of wine, or a Modelo that costs the same as anywhere else in the area. You can go and have a more expensive dinner, or pay little more than what you would pay at McDonalds.
The menu is small and changes very little… why have they been so faithful to this formula?

I do not know if you have seen the kitchen but it is very small, in addition to keeping prices relatively low, we have to have a fairly stable menu. The idea was to have a small menu with some elements that change depending on the season. So, for example, we always have jams to go with bread, and those vary. We use different vegetables for some dishes, but the idea is always the same. We regularly offer some "special" of the house, which is temporary, because our limitations regarding the size of the kitchen and the prices we offer do not allow us to change the menu completely at all times.
Credits: Ana Cuéllar
I imagine that has also helped to create its community, the idea that Cicatriz is a place that does not change too much, where you always know what to expect ...

Yes, I think our inspiration is these types of neighborhood cafes in Paris or New York that serve incredible food with very beautiful ingredients, where it is not about having the most innovative dish, which requires a lot of work and is difficult to maintain a consistency of quality and flavor. This is an excellent egg, a good piece of bread or some delicious roasted vegetables. And there aren't many places that just try to do that yet. It is difficult to carry out and it is not the most profitable thing in the world, but it is consistent and I think that, thanks to that, we create a community of people who enjoy that specifically.

Almost a year ago the pandemic began in Mexico. Many restaurants have struggled and surely you are no exception, but in many ways I know that you have been able to overcome the challenges and difficulties that have arisen. What are you telling me about this last year for Scar?
To be honest, it has been extremely difficult. Very difficult, but I think that as we have maintained this consistency in terms of our concept and our clientele, we have been able to move forward. First, we ran a large donation drive, and our clients were very kind to support us. That helped us a lot, and also those who buy our grocery products, for example. Still, to be honest, in January we were seeing ourselves in the dark, facing a tough situation with very difficult conversations, but now that some restrictions have been removed, we are breathing again. As soon as we started setting up tables outside, they were full. Thanks to our community, all we really need is for the restrictions to end, and people will come.
And your work team?

We are happy to say that we have supported our entire work team this year, sometimes earning more, sometimes less, but always at least the base salary we set. All of our staff have counted on at least that throughout the pandemic, because they are essential to us. Other restaurants could not do the same, and it is understandable, since these are unprecedented times, but for us it is a relief to have reached this moment with our entire family together. Now that we reopen, it's nice to know that any of our clients' favorite waiter or waitress will still be there, not someone new who doesn't know the wave well. That contributes to Scar's overall vibe; It is not just the restaurant, it is the place and the customers and the staff, all together.

Art Deco in Mexico City

The history of the current called Art Déco begins in Paris in 1925, when it was shown for the first time at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. Taking inspiration from the modernism of the time, Art Deco sought to embody a novel and anti-traditional elegance that functioned as a symbol of the opulence that characterized the post-war era. In architecture, buildings of this style are characterized by simple volumes with some ornamental elements in stylized geometric shapes that, although rarely mass-produced, reflected an admiration for the industrial age and the design qualities inherent in machines (symmetry , repetition and simplicity).

Although Art Deco originated in Europe, it did not take long to reach other corners of the world. Today, cities like Mumbai, Shanghai and Melbourne are recognized for the strong presence of style among their 20th century buildings, and Mexico City is not far behind. When the Mexican Revolution ended around 1920, the country's capital was in the process of forming a new aesthetic and cultural identity. Architecture has always prevailed among the ways in which a society creates a sense of belonging to its territory and a distinctive image for those who visit it, and although an architectural style may come from outside, it always takes on a new form when inserted in another place.
In her book "Art Déco in Mexico City", Dr. Carolina Magaña explains that "Déco architecture is considered the pinnacle of Mexican nationalist architectural design, since it was the only one among the four contemporary currents neocolonial, Californian colonial, modern movement and neo indigenismo in which various types of buildings were built, with formal elements such as single-family houses, multi-family buildings, public and private buildings, parks, churches, monuments and urban elements, ”adding that“ it was also part of a typological process within the main neighborhoods of Mexico City from 1925 to 1940. "

Both in the Historic Center and in the Cuauhtémoc, Juárez, Condesa, Roma Norte and Sur neighborhoods, you can appreciate the presence of Art Deco within the urban fabric. Some are more or less anonymous structures; five- or six-story residential buildings, often with a particular name written in thin steel letters above the front door (Edificio Basurto, Edificio Olga, or something similar). Others are more iconic, such as the Frontón México and the Monument to the Revolution in the Plaza de la República, the Foro Lindberg in Parque México or the Ermita Building by the architect Juan Segura, one of the first “skyscrapers” in the city.

In a territory as complex and diverse as ours, many wonder, why is it worth protecting the heritage of the city? Wouldn't it be easier and more efficient to build new structures that respond to current needs and reflect today's culture? The answer is as complex as Mexico City itself; On the one hand, we are facing a multitude of urban crises that threaten the entire population, but especially the most vulnerable and economically impoverished sectors. On the other hand, built heritage is tangible history, and safeguarding it represents more than a simple aesthetic exercise - it also represents a respect for culture and collective memory. We must not make the “clean slate” error when it comes to our historic and heritage buildings, but rather find a way in which they can start a new life, always in service to contemporary lifestyles, but with respect and care. To the past that we share.