How Arturo Barajas shared his vision of friendship and unity with South Mississippi
Mosaic is defined as a "combination of diverse elements forming a coherent whole,” and that definitely describes the multi-cultural hot spot of the Mississippi Gulf Coast by the same name. To owner and prominent restaurant entrepreneur, Arturo Barajas, his 10-year old jewel on Government Street in Ocean Springs represents friendship and unity.
"We believe every customer is a potential friend,” Barajas says. "Once we engage them here at Mosaic’s, they then become our ambassadors in the community.”
In fact, the friendship aspect of Mosaic’s "tapas” menu emphasizes sharing. The small plates of exquisite appetizers are a way for customers to partake together as the dishes are placed in the center of the table.
Barajas says, "I took recipes from my family in Mexico and from people I met. I put the first menu together with my friend Jordan Romano, focusing on tapas.” Thanks to his ingenuity tapas dining has evolved into a sophisticated cuisine on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. "The hookah is also a symbol of sharing and trust,” Barajas says. Placed, like tapas, in the table’s center, the hookah allows customers to smoke together, thus bonding their friendship.
Always interested in the cultural expansion of the Coast, Barajas even brought in belly dancers, and customers loved it! A vast array of musical talents have graced the stage at Mosaic, from jazz and rock greats to Brazilian Bossanova and Flamenco. Music is the language everyone speaks and Barajas knows how to bring in the best. He explains: "My hand has touched every aspect of Mosaic. I am part of it all, aware of everything in the business.”
Though tapas and hookahs are Mosaic mainstays, the restaurant and bar have had several incarnations since opening in 2006. "We have to be willing to adjust to the demands of the new generation,” Barajas explains. "Our main concept at Mosaic is our food and cocktails. We are happy people bought into that concept.” Barajas credits his customers with helping him make necessary changes in his business.
"We listen to our customers,” he says. "We want to please them. There was a demand for more space, especially outside; more seating at the bar, and a broader variety of beers.” Barajas achieved those goals and more. The outside courtyard of Mosaic is a popular and comfortable gathering place all year long. And, each time one enters Mosaic there is something new and wonderful to experience.
The not-yet-40-year old businessman, is happy to celebrate the 10-year success of Mosaic. Greeting customers daily with a hands-on management style, Barajas makes it look easy. Not surprisingly, however, his journey has been bittersweet—a recipe of acquired knowledge mixed with loss, loyalty, layoffs, a bit of luck, and immigration laws are among the elements he encountered while creating a life in his new country.
Born in Mexico City, his family moved to the historic city of Cuernavaca when Barajas was five. Surrounded by a diverse group of friends, Barajas realized early on he was a born leader. "Friends always came to me, asking ‘what are we going to play today?’ I was always the person who organized and coordinated ideas for parties and places to go.”
Barajas’ innate ability to bring people together only matured with his education and career outreach. While attending Pan American University of Hospitality he arrived in the United States as an exchange student in 1998—alone and not speaking English. At the last minute, his traveling companion could not get a visa.
"No one was waiting for me at the Gulfport airport when I landed!” he says. "I figured out the signs and saw a Casino Magic limo headed to Bay St. Louis. I convinced the driver to drop me at the Biloxi Casino Magic.”
Carrying a suitcase filled with course books on english language texts, Barajas was forced to immediately learn basic phrases, like "Good morning” and "I will meet you in the lobby at 8 am” to get by during his initial Human Resources interview.
"At first I thought, ‘what have I done?’ On my first day, I did not eat at all. I was too embarrassed to ask my casino guide to stop for food.”
After a month of training, Barajas was on his second book of English while he worked double shifts in housekeeping from 7am to midnight, cleaning up to as many as 40 rooms daily. While working nights he studied the manuals of all the casino departments, learning as he cleaned. When he returned to Mexico to graduate in 1999 with honors, he began recruiting and mentoring friends to return with him to the United States.
"My dad always said work like you don’t need the money. I needed a way to make work fun,” Barajas says that was something he always managed to do in Mexico. "Keeping a sense of humor has always helped.”
Before getting laid off from Casino Magic in 2001 after September 11th terrorist attack, Barajas was given a major task by his supervisor: To create a policies and procedures manual outlining motivational training programs. "It was a contest and it took six months to do,” he says. "I presented it in three languages: English, Spanish, and Portuguese. Very detailed.” Barajas’ department won the contest.
Barajas’ life has been and continues to be his own self-created mosaic of working hard at every job, studying and learning, going the extra mile, and never giving up. In 2003 he had seven interviews for what he describes as his dream job in Tunica as a Hotel Manager, but immigration paperwork got in the way.
"It was a big fall. Then I worked as a server in local Mexican restaurants on the Coast, working my way up to assistant manager.”
The job market eventually took Barajas to South Florida in 2003 where he was offered a job at Chili’s in Jacksonville and then transferred to Destin. Two years later before opening Acapulco restaurant in Ocean Springs, Barajas traveled to Mexico for a visit.
"The day I was scheduled to return, Hurricane Katrina destroyed the restaurant. I lost everything.”
By September 2006 Barajas was on his way to Mosaic stardom in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, thanks to the financial backing of a couple of friends and his dear friend Christina Mezo.
"We became an instant part of the community with parties nightly to get people’s mind off their losses,” Barajas says. "It was the greatest satisfaction to see the restaurant fill up with people dancing, enjoying the belly-dancing, eating, and drinking. People needed to have fun and share.” Mosaic was certainly the place to be on the Mississippi Gulf Coast post-Katrina.
Knowing full well the concept of Mosaic was universal, Barajas opened an Orange Beach location, but in 2012 the oil spill took a toll on resort communities everywhere. "Here we go again,” Barajas groaned, but not for long. He credits his best friend, mentor, and business partner, Gabriel Khachik, for the amazing comeback in 2012 and the ongoing success of Mosaic in Ocean Springs. "He is my left hand and my right hand,” Barajas says.
Ten years later, one decade of Mosaic is yet another milestone for Arturo Barajas who says he is grateful to be able to help someone daily, to create something new, and to continue making a difference.
His suggestion to young and adventurous restaurateurs: "If you have a career you really want, don’t waste time, just do it. Go through hell if you have to—you’ll get out O.K. If you believe in something go all in, don’t wait for just that right moment. You must take risks!”
Like the five-year old child leader in Cuernavaca so many years ago, Arturo Barajas continues to manage others quite well and give excellent advice.
Happy 10th Anniversary Mosaic Tapas Restaurant & Bar!
The most cosmopolitan spot on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (This slogan must be in John Handy Font)
1010 Government Street, Ocean Springs, MS 39564