Marie Yniguez helms the kitchen at Albuquerque's Slow Roasted Bocadillos. Photograph by Ungelbah Dávila-Shivers.

MARIE YNIQUEZ'S EARLY YEARS were especially challenging—a brother’s suicide, motherhood at 19, and a stint in the Army. But after honing her culinary chops in restaurants all across the United States and feeding thousands of schoolkids, she now helms the kitchen of Slow Roasted Bocadillos, in Albuquerque, which serves crave-worthy sammies that have earned raves from locals and Food Network stars. She’s even set to launch a smoked-ribs-and-wings food truck this year.

Entrepreneur for Life: At 32, Yniguez suffered a mild stroke. While recovering and unable to work for several months, she realized something: “If I’m going to be killing myself at work, I’m going to do it for my family, not working for someone else.” It led her to the commercial kitchen at Albuquerque’s South Valley Economic Development Center, where she soon launched a café.  

Para los Niños: For seven years, Yniguez cooked healthy breakfast and lunch options for Albuquerque school children as a part of Bocadillos’ community catering business. What began in 2009 with 50 students at her daughter’s school, Tierra Adentro of New Mexico, evolved into feeding 1,250 students from multiple charter schools. “That was my heart,” she says of the operation, which she hopes to revive as a side gig this year. “These kids are our future. They need sustenance to keep their brains going. And for a lot of them, that was the only meal they had that day, so I wanted them to be full when they went home.”   

Low and Slow: Yniguez launched Slow Roasted Bocadillos to keep her staff busy during the kids’ summer break. The café quickly earned a following for its 12-to-16-hour slow-roasted meats and piled-high sandwiches. “I love anything between two pieces of bread.”  

Guy Stops By: Six months after opening Slow Roasted Bocadillos, Yniguez and her wife and business partner, Karla Arvizu, received a surprise invitation to appear on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives. “We were making a hundred bucks a day,” she recalls. “We’d just had a conversation about closing the shop.”  

Not Chopped: In 2017, Yniguez returned to Food Network for an episode of Chopped. While she claimed victory (and $10,000) in the cooking showdown, the biggest prize was spending five days in New York City—a lifelong dream. “I’m not a competitive person,” she says. “It’s just about the experience for me.” 

Fine Outcome: Despite facing off against fine-dining chefs from New York and Virginia, Yniguez prevailed with a winning combo of several inharmonious ingredients: polenta cake, béchamel sauce, plums, and pink Himalayan sea salt. “Here I was coming off of making burritos out of my car,” she says. “It felt good to remember I still knew how to do all those things. 

Hesitant Trailblazer: Yniguez is proud that her daughter graduated from Central New Mexico Community College and followed her culinary lead by joining the staff of Slow Roasted Bocadillos. “I’ve made my state proud, my gente proud, and my family proud,” she says. “I hope I can show other kids you don’t have to have an Ivy League education to make something of yourself. You just have to work hard.” 

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