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'The Saucy Lady': How enchiladas are more than a meal for this restaurant owner

Enchiladas Ole' is famous for its signature dish, but for owner Mary Perez, the enchiladas are just the beginning.

FORT WORTH, Texas — They call her "The Saucy Lady."  Mary Perez owns one of the most popular Tex-Mex restaurants in Fort Worth.

Perez started her successful enchilada business at home in her kitchen.

"I was making enchiladas for my friends and co-workers," said Perez.

She says she was just making the recipes she learned from her mother.

”In the Hispanic culture we were with our moms on the stove," said Perez.

From there her business, Enchiladas Ole was born.

”Some of my friends were like your enchilada sauces are so good you should bottle it," said Perez.

So she did. She bottled it and walked into the offices of Central Market in Plano that was in 2011.

They loved her sauce so much she got an offer on the spot.

”In 45 minutes I had an order for Dallas, Fort Worth, San Antonio, Houston and Austin. It was a life-changing experience I never thought it would happen," said Perez.

At the time Mary was working at the Boys and Girls Club of Fort Worth where she was cooking for 300 kids after school.

”So the kids wouldn’t go hungry and we knew they were fed for the day," said Perez. 

But she had a dream and customers wanted more so in 2013 she left her job and opened a small restaurant on the east side of Fort Worth.

For the first two years, the air conditioner didn’t work.

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”It was only by the grace of God that we made it," said Perez.

Her business boomed.

”Sometimes you have to take a leap of faith and just go for it and that’s what I did," said Perez.

Seven years later, she closed the small restaurant and opened another one near the TCU campus in February.  

She added a booth honoring Latina legends like Selena and Frida Khalo. 

But two weeks after opening the county shut everything down because of COVID-19.

”There was uncertainty about everything.”

But, Mary a single mother with three sons, says she would not quit. 

Once she could re-open she said she did at times roll up her sleeves to wash dishes.

”There were times I would be driving home from the restaurant thinking, 'What have I done?' because I was so tired," said Perez.

Enchiladas Ole was one of the few restaurants that boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

She’s now opening a second restaurant in North Richland Hills and four of her sauces will soon be in Walmart and HEB.

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"We only have one life to live and make the most of it.”

Mary says her mother would be proud. 

She passed away from cancer 17 years ago.

To honor her memory Mary lets all cancer patients eat for free.

”This is a calling, lady and every plate goes out with a blessing because this company was started as a God-given company because I sure couldn’t have done it myself," she said.

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The Saucy Lady that started making sauce in her kitchen is now building an enchilada sauce empire.