As an expat living at Lakeside, Lia Krantz has found her niche, cooking up tasty Asian food and selling her popular products at various lakeside markets. Ironically, as one of four kids in her family growing up in Jakarta, Indonesia, she was the only family member who wasn’t into cooking.
Lia’s mother was a caterer, her brother owned a restaurant, and both sisters cooked for large organizations. Other than occasionally getting rounded up to chop vegetables by her mother for her catering business, cooking was not something she was drawn to – until she moved to Mexico.
“I was in Bali in 1991 when I met Marshall,” Lia says. “Two years later, just after my mother died, we married and moved to his hometown of Boston, where he was a high school teacher and adjunct professor at Anna Maria College.”
Even though her husband did all the cooking, Lia found herself missing Asian food, all the while growing frustrated at not being able to cook anything – even something as simple as soup.
On her first trip to Boston’s Chinatown, she was amazed to see foods similar to those in Indonesia. With a longing to cook these familiar foods, she would call up her sister in Indonesia, racking up high phone bills, just to ask how to make chicken soup.
“I guess cooking must be in my blood,” says Lia, “because it came rather easy to me.”
During their trips to Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand, Lia would sign up for cooking classes, doing the same in Bali. “We’d buy up cookbooks wherever we could find them,” Marshall adds.
The couple vacationed in Ajijic twice during Marshall’s summer breaks from teaching. When he retired in 1999, they moved to Ajijic, having fallen in love with the area’s climate and natural beauty.
“Lakeside’s weather is almost the same as Indonesia’s,” says Lia. “The only difference being that Lakeside is less humid. Living in Ajijic, we were relieved to shed our heavy Boston clothing.”
As they slowly made new friends, the couple would invite these friends over for dinner. Each time, Lia would receive compliments on her cooking, then get requests to teach Asian cooking, which inspired her to create home-based cooking classes.
After a year of teaching classes and feeling ready to try something new, a friend suggested that she sell her food at the Monday market. Deciding to give it a try, she started with three simple items: spring rolls, dumplings and potato samosas. Much to her delight, the items sold well. She began adding new items, one at a time, such as packages of sushi rolls and inari – sushi rice wrapped inside seasoned and fried tofu pockets.
She is now selling 15 to 20 items at both the Monday market at Sunrise Café and the Tuesday market at La Huerta Event Center. She also supplies a variety of soups to El Granero in Ajijic.
“I always seem to sell out of my spring rolls,” she says. “During the ‘high’ season, I make 25 dozen spring rolls for both markets, not including my private orders and catering gigs.”
Lia rises early Sunday morning to begin prepping her food, working throughout the day. On Monday morning, she puts the finishing touches on her packaged goods, arrives at the Sunrise Café by 9:30 a.m., and leaves three hours later.
“Once back at home, I put everything away, then head to Chapala’s large outdoor market to buy what I need for the Tuesday market. Afterward, I get to work peeling and freezing everything.”
Much of the money Lia earns goes back into her business. Although she mostly works by herself, she has hired a helper to work 16 hours a week. Her son Joshua also helps out when he visits during school break. “He’s studying engineering at the University of Massachusetts and I’m teaching him how to cook,” she adds.
When she isn’t engaged in her work, Lia enjoys spending her free time hanging out with friends in the Ajijic plaza. On Saturday mornings, friends join her for a walk along the Lake Chapala malecon, taking in the breathtaking views.
Presently, she is spending time in Indonesia with family and friends.
“This is the first time in three years that Lia has been able to travel to Indonesia,” says Marshall. “We used to fly there every year, but once our son started college, we had to cut back due to tuition costs.”
Returning to Ajijic in mid-June with a suitcase filled with hard-to-find Indonesian spices, Lia will be ready to resume her cooking and her presence at the weekly markets, which her loyal customers are anticipating.
“It wasn’t until we moved to Ajijic that I noticed how much I actually enjoy cooking,” she says. “When a customer tells me that my food is delicious, that puts a big smile on my face and all of my hard work is worth it.”