Mil Jugos Brings A Taste of Venezuela to Southern California
By Oriana Gonzalez
Mil Jugos, one of the few exclusively Venezuelan restaurants in Southern California, is located right next to the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and United States Courthouse in Santa Ana. At lunchtime, it is not uncommon to see people in suits getting some food, but behind the formal clientele lies almost two decades of history, family, tradition and culture.
Mil Jugos was created in 2003 by Venezuelan native Norah Briceño, and since then, she has been dedicated to presenting unique foods to the Santa Ana community.
“We have introduced Venezuelan food here,” said Briceño.
The Mil Jugos restaurant in Santa Ana is the second Mil Jugos location in the world. The first was founded in 1993 in the city of Maracay, Venezuela, Briceño’s city of origin. Mil Jugos can be directly translated to “a thousand juices.” Briceño came up with the name because she said that a thousand juices can be made out of all the combinations of fruits, which represents the variety of juices Briceño offers in her restaurant.
In February 1999, Hugo Chávez Frías won the Venezuelan presidential election and introduced what would become a 20-year dictatorship in Venezuela that is still ongoing today. Briceño felt that Chávez’s victory would not be good for the future of the country, so she decided to leave Venezuela on December 15 of the same year, the same day as the Vargas Tragedy, a series of floods and debris flows that struck the state of Vargas and prevented the airports from fully working.
“The last flight that left that day was mine,” Briceño recalled, “I said, ‘You need to get me in whatever flight, I need to leave now.’”
She decided to come to California because her sister lived in the state. Curiously, she did not decide to reside in Florida even though the largest Venezuelan population in the U.S. is in Miami.
“Miami has been taken over by Venezuelans,” she said. “I wanted a change.”
In 2002, Briceño’s parents, Solange de Briceño and Humberto Briceño, arrived in America. Briceño convinced her mother to open a Venezuelan restaurant, and in 2003, the mother-daughter duo used their savings to open Mil Jugos in Santa Ana.
Solange says that she did not hesitate or question the creation of Mil Jugos because she completely trusted her daughter.
“She is a very ambitious person,” said Solange. “Her personality is one of a leader.”
Mil Jugos became a family-run establishment, with Briceño’s parents, siblings and other family members each taking on a role in the restaurant that varied from cooking to washing dishes.
“We each have a role: my mom makes the meat, chicken, beans; I make the sauces; my brother makes the desserts,” said Briceño.“And do you hear that? That’s my dad washing the dishes.”
Briceño’s restaurant stands out from all the other locations nearby. It has bright yellow and green walls, which, as Briceño explained, represent the color of traditional Venezuelan juices, such as passion fruit juice (bright yellow), guanabana juice (white), mamey juice (orange), and blackberry juice (bright purple). The windows are easily noticeable because of their colorful banners and extravagant letters displaying the restaurant’s name.
Mil Jugos has managed to attract all types of customers. Briceño recalls how former professional basketball player Scottie Pippen once
came to Mil Jugos, and she had no idea who he was. She told her husband about a “really tall guy in the restaurant known as Scottie Pippen,” and he told her that she needed to take a picture with him immediately. According to Briceño, Pippen ate all types of food.
“He eats everything,” said Briceño. “He ate soup, empanada [corn dough stuffed with a variety of ingredients like meat, cheese, and vegetables], he even drank passion fruit juice.”
Besides celebrities, Mil Jugos has managed to garner a following of customers from different races, ethnicities, and nationalities who say they love Venezuelan food.
Luis Marquez, a loyal Mil Jugos customer from Mexico, says that he tries to go to the restaurant once every week or two.
“I always eat the same thing,” said Marquez. “I order a ‘chicharronada’ [an arepa, with fried pork belly, also known as chicharrón] and I eat it with a Coke.”
Briceño says that since opening the restaurant almost 15 years ago, she has been able to introduce traditional Venezuelan food to the public, such as arepas, which are a traditional Venezuelan dish that is made with white flour corn, either grilled or fried. Her restaurant has become a very diverse environment. Overall, she does not believe that creating one of the few Venezuelan restaurants in California has been a mistake.
“I do not regret it at all,” said Briceño. “It’s almost been 20 years, who would have thought?”