Rosa Mexicano, one of the nation’s foremost Mexican fine dining establishments, held a special Women’s History Month event reception on Monday, March 4 to honor its late founder, Josefina Howard, on the occasion of the business’s 35th anniversary.
The centerpiece of the event, which drew longtime friends and veteran employees of Rosa Mexicano, was the unveiling of a specially commissioned portrait of Josefina Howard. This portrait, created by Latino muralist Nestor Madalengoitia, will be displayed in all Rosa Mexicano locations nationwide to celebrate the woman who introduced Mexican fine dining to New York City.
In addition, attendees watched this newly produced video about the life and achievements of Josefina Howard, told through the recollections of friends and co-workers who knew her best.
As part of the festivities, Rosa Mexicano was presented with a special proclamation from the office of Corey Johnson, New York City Council Speaker, honoring Josefina Howard for her achievements as a visionary chef, an innovative entrepreneur, and an immigrant woman who surmounted the challenges of her era to follow her dream of introducing Mexican cuisine to New Yorkers and beyond.
“In observance of Women’s History Month, it’s especially fitting that we honor an extraordinary woman,” says Chris Wescott, president and Chief Executive Officer of Rosa Mexicano. “Josefina was not only a true culinary innovator, but she was — and remains — the heart of our business. Her legacy informs all that we do, especially as we move forward in our 35th anniversary year with plans to expand our footprint in markets throughout the nation.”
A remembrance of Josefina Howard was offered by Melba Wilson, the newly-elected president of the New York City Hospitality Alliance. Famed restaurateur and author Wilson began her career at Rosa Mexicano in the 1980s and recalls the nurturing that Ms. Howard provided, as well as her many pioneering culinary innovations, all while she exhibited her signature determination in hiring people of color and surmounting sexism in the hospitality industry.
Recalling the first time she met Josefina, introduced with enthusiasm by celebrity chef Drew Nieporent, Melba Wilson says, “There was this lady, petite in stature, but huge in presence.” Josefina immediately insisted that Wilson come work for her. She accepted — and that decision changed her life forever. (In photo on left: Melba Wilson and CEO Chris Wescott.)
“As I stand before you today,” she says, “as a restaurateur, as a chef, as an author — and as the first female and first person of color to head the New York City Hospitality Alliance — I can tell you that all of this is because I stand on her shoulders.”
When Rosa Mexicano opened in Manhattan in 1984, Josefina Howard introduced exotic ingredients like avocado, huitlacoche, and pomegranate in her menu of authentic regional Mexican recipes. Her unique pomegranate margaritas quickly became a Manhattan sensation. She was the first to introduce the now-ubiquitous preparation of fresh, tableside guacamole. Working in an era when women and immigrants were not prominent in the culinary world, Josefina Howard persevered and her reputation skyrocketed.
The 35th anniversary of Rosa Mexicano, a Manhattan culinary landmark, will be marked by a series of special events throughout 2019. Plans will include Mexican cultural celebrations and culinary specials. The 35th Anniversary menu will include a re-introduction of signature Mexican regional dishes first introduced by Josefina Howard.
Rosa Mexicano has 11 locations nationwide. They include four New York City restaurants (First Avenue, by Lincoln Center, Union Square and Tribeca); New Jersey; Boston; Washington, DC; National Harbor; Los Angeles; and San Francisco.