Dining with Denise Neil

Wichita girl boss, soon-to-be restaurant owner returns to middle school to inspire girls

In the early 2000s, a well-behaved, conscientious student passed through the halls of Mayberry Middle School, a cultural and fine arts magnet at 207 S. Sheridan.

She was one of the good ones, so when Mayberry counselor Alison Guerra saw the grown up version of Victoria Tamez in the newspaper, she wasn’t surprised to read that Tamez was on the verge of starting her own business — a tequila bar and Latin restaurant called Azucar Social House, which is set to open in the Douglas Design District later this year.

Maybe, Guerra thought, a Mayberry graduate who had grown up to be her own boss could help inspire a group of current students who needed a little extra help figuring out how to balance the pressures of school and homework and relationships.

Guerra got in touch with Tamez, and ever since, she’s been meeting weekly with a small group of seventh grade girls to talk about life, school, home — whatever they want to talk about. Last week was their final meeting of the year.

Victoria Tamez, who later this summer will open Azucar Social House in the Douglas Design District, returned to her former middle school to mentor and inspire a group of girls. Denise Neil The Wichita Eagle

Though the girls were impressed to learn that Tamez was about to open her own restaurant and bar, they weren’t so sure about her planned menu of parrilladas, ceviche, pozole and high-end tequila. This was a group whose tastes leaned more to hot Cheetos and bright red fruit punch, both of which Guerra provided and the girls ingested with glee throughout the meeting.

They started off, as they always did, talking about what was on the girls’ minds. This week, they all wanted to talk about the student from Southeast High School who had died by suicide the previous week. The student had once gone to Mayberry.

They talked about the end of the track season, where a couple of girls had earned top medals in their events, then moved on to a lively round of “people bingo,” a game Tamez had brought where the girls had to talk to each other to find out, for example, who was left handed, who had a summer birthday, who had read a chapter book, etc.

The conversation turned a little more serious when Tamez said she wanted to talk to the girls about respecting themselves and asked them each to share what they loved about themselves. A couple of girls couldn’t come up with anything, so their classmates offered compliments.

“You’re a really a happy person!” one suggested.

The sessions have been good for the girls, said Guerra, who noted that the students in the group weren’t necessarily friends or fans of each other when the mentoring sessions started.

They are now.

“One of them asked me, ‘Why didn’t you start this sooner?’” Guerra said.

As the meeting wrapped up, the girls begged Tamez to come back next year. They asked for her phone number so they could stay in touch. They hugged her and snapped selfies with her.

“I just want to show them that this is what I’m doing,” Tamez said. “I went to school here, and I could have taken my life this direction or I could have taken it the other direction, but look what’s happened to me. I wanted to show them that a Mayberry student can do anything she sets her mind to.”

Speaking of, Tamez recently returned from a trip to Mexico, where she researched ideas for her menu. Construction on Azucar Social House should start in early June, she said, and the restaurant is set to open by summer’s end. She promises to share the exact address of the business soon.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.