Balancing business and health, a Mission Viejo restaurant owner works to build a community – Orange County Register

Annika Bahnsen


Lina and Tony Esqueda planned for patrons of Green Chile Cantina to be able to walk into the restaurant and be served new-style Mexican food by the two of them — but life has had other plans.

Just days before Green Chile opened its doors for the first time in August, Lina Esqueda was given some scary news: She was diagnosed with stage three follicular helper T-cell lymphoma.

Lina Esqueda discovered a lump around her shoulder about two months before the restaurant opened, and after two ultrasounds, two biopsies, a CT scan and a PET scan, she was officially given the diagnosis. This cancer primarily affects the lymph nodes in the body, causing swelling and growth of the lymph nodes to occur. Fever, body aches or fatigue are also common symptoms with the cancer, according to an article from the National Institutes of Health.

“This entire process has been extremely tough,” said Lina Esqueda. “Everyone only gets to see me when I’m finally feeling good.”

Due to her illness and weakened immune system, Lina Esqueda can’t be inside the restaurant and around so many people, even though that is all she wants to do. That’s one of the worst parts of her diagnosis, she said, that she “can’t be there and be the face of my business — meeting, greeting and being a part of our first days.”

“It is very difficult to balance,” said Lina Esqueda. “I only have so many good days every three weeks.”

Lina Esqueda has chemotherapy treatments about every three weeks; those make her feel extremely sick and fatigued and limit her ability to participate in the everyday duties of the restaurant. Those weeks when she has chemo, she must also take a slew of medications and shots.

By the second week, she is still sore and tired but manages to help out over the phone and online, Lina Esqueda said. Once the third week arrives, she tries to get as much done at the restaurant as she can, like paying bills, signing documents and directing certain cleaning tasks.

“It has been so hard,” said Lina Esqueda. “I can’t be there to walk our guests through our style of food, and I didn’t have time to train the staff on what our style of food is or how to treat the guests like family.”

Lina Esqueda says her husband, extended family and the restaurant staff have been “very supportive and understanding” of the situation, but even with the help, “the struggle is real.”

Lina and Tony Esqueda met in 2003 while they both worked at a restaurant in Orange. Ever since, they have been a dynamic duo in the restaurant business, owning not only the Green Chile Cantina in Mission Viejo but another restaurant by the same name in La Habra as well. That location has been open since 2015, but one other in La Mirada closed in 2019.

The Mission Viejo restaurant has only been around for a few months and offers a blend of American and Mexican classics. Some of their menu items include “The Dodger” chicken sandwich with fried jalapeño and chipotle aioli; “Chorizo Fries” with cotija cheese, jalapeños and chipotle ranch dressing; and the “Albuquerque,” a half-pound beef patty with bacon, guacamole and chipotle aioli.

“My sister, Sophia Baro, quit her full-time job to come in and work at Green Chile Cantina and to cover my husband at my La Habra store so he can be with me when I get chemo,” said Lina Esqueda. “She is doing everything in her power to work in the front or bartend and even covers the kitchen sometimes. She is the face of the business while I have to step down and work from afar.”

“The restaurant is struggling, unfortunately, like many other restaurants out there today. It’s already a tough business then you add an owner who can’t work,” said Lina Esqueda.

Despite the limited opportunities to physically be in the restaurant, Lina Esqueda hopes to grow a following in Mission Viejo through community promotions, working with the city and simply “winning everyone over.”

“I love Mission Viejo,” said Lina Esqueda, who lives in La Habra with her husband. “It is a beautiful city, and being a business owner here will be great because of the support of the Chamber and the Mission Viejo City Council. I know I will experience that once I get to be here and be part of the community on a personal level.”

“I would love for everyone to just come out and try our food,” she said. “Let us be a part of your community.”

Throughout these health struggles, the Esquedas have received an immense amount of support and encouragement from not only her longtime friends and family but also from the new community she has found in Mission Viejo, they said.

“I have new and old friends praying for me,” said Lina Esqueda. “I have strangers praying for me. I have met some beautiful people at the Green Chile Cantina that send me messages and pray for me, and I have only met them once. These people become family.”

“Family, friends and strangers have truly been my backbone through this journey,” she said.

Annika Bahnsen Local News,community,Restaurants,Top Stories OCR

2024-01-09 16:33:06 , Mission Viejo News: The Orange County Register

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