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A spice of sibling rivalry

Published: Thursday, May 5, 2005

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 19:01

When one thinks about restaurant rivalries, the debate between Presto's and Pino's is usually the first thing that comes to mind. A few blocks down Beacon Street, however, there is another competition brewing between the reigning Mexican restaurants that appeal to Boston College students: Boca Grande and Anna's Taqueria. Both are intensely popular because of their surprisingly large portions, great taste, and low cost. But the competition doesn't end at simply comparing burritos. The two famous taquerias also happen to be stuck in the middle of a sibling rivalry. Brother and sister Michael and Markio Kamio each own a restaurant; Michael heads up Anna's, while Markio leads Boca Grande.

Markio Kamio was able to speak with The Heights about her restaurant as well as her rivalry with her brother, though Michael Kamio was unavailable for comment.

Markio and Michael Kamio came to Cambridge, Mass. about 20 years ago. Previously, they had lived in California, where their culinary experiences were filled with Mexican food.

The two worked together for their first five years in Cambridge in Markio Kamio's original Boca Grande Taqueria. Afterwards, however, Michael Kamio struck out on his own and established the Anna's line.

"We're just competitive rivals," said Markio Kamio, of her brother's decision to open a series of restaurants so similar to hers. "Anytime you're in competition with your family, there's bound to be some tension."

Her interest in owning a taqueria was sparked by her earlier experiences in traveling from the West Coast.

"My cousin had a taqueria in San Francisco, and my research at General Mills [in Minnesota, where she worked as marketing director] indicated that Mexican food was the fastest growing ethnic food in America," said Kamio.

Although her cousin's style of restaurant influenced her, she has worked hard to keep hers original and creative.

"It was coincidental that my cousin had a Mexican shop," she said. "He was very generous and let us see the shop. You don't want to make your restaurant identical to anyone else's."

She also keeps her restaurant authentic by making frequent trips to Mexico for inspiration and ideas.

"I would never think of opening a Mexican restaurant without going to Mexico," she said.

One of the more surprising aspects of her restaurant is the fact that Kamio is of Japanese decent and has chosen to concentrate on Mexican food rather than the cuisine of her ancestors.

"A lot of people are surprised when they hear I own a Mexican restaurant," said Kamio. "When I tell people I own a restaurant, they say 'Oh, what kind? Chinese?' - because most people assume I am Chinese, because I am Asian - and I always have to say 'No, no, I'm Japanese, and I'm going to open a Mexican restaurant. I'm a cook, a very experienced cook. The basic recipes came from California, but all our new recipes came from Mexico."

Despite the competition, however, she remains optimistic. "A lot of people assume there can only be one of a certain type of restaurant in a location. But there's a synergism when there are more. As long as the market isn't saturated, competition really does bring more business in."

She compares the proximity of the two taquerias as having a similar effect of having a Burger King and a McDonald's on the same corner.

"More restaurants draw more people to that location and they have more of a choice," she said. "When my brother opened closer to ours, we had more business than we could handle."

A hint of the rivalry lingered as she described what she saw as the difference between her brother's taqueria and her own.

She described Boca's clientele as mostly comprised of young professionals.

"The difference is that if you go to Anna's, they have a good system of a fast assembly line," she said, which attracts students.

The restaurants may have different owners, but their food shares a common thread. In the end, it just comes down to students' personal preference.

"I think they're the same prices," said Will Kryder, A&S '08. "But Boca's is less busy."

"[Anna's] is the one place I've found that makes something close to the authentic Mexican food we have out in California," said Sean Hanlon, CSOM '06.

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