Lucia Maceda’s love of food blossomed during her childhood. Growing up in Mexico, her mother travelled to many different corners of the country — Maceda in tow — just to try the different regional foods.

At just five years old, Maceda was already being taught to prepare tortillas and molé by her grandmother, who hosted Sunday brunch every week for visitors and family alike.

Maceda’s favourite childhood dish? Her grandfather’s Bacalao — a traditional Spanish dish, often prepared for Christmas, in which cod is seasoned with tomatoes, garlic and olives, amongst other ingredients.

“It's always been a passion,” Maceda told CTV News Toronto. “It's something that I grew up with.”

Maceda hadn’t yet finished Grade 7 when she knew she wanted to pursue her passion for food as a career.

“I used to go to a private school and, in Grade 7, you can choose [between] different career specialties,” she explained. “I chose culinary.”

As a young woman, Maceda moved to Canada and soon embedded herself in Toronto’s restaurant scene, working as a chef at different establishments throughout the city. When Maceda took over ownership of Cool Hand of A Girl, located at 2804 Dundas West St., in 2008, she knew she wanted to pay homage to her heritage in both her cooking and her community.

“For me, it's not about just the flavour,” she said. “The food has to be memorable — it’s about creating memories.”

Maceda carefully selects the ingredients used in Cool Hand of A Girl’s menu, prioritizing local farmers and organic ingredients and sourcing artisanal bread from Toronto bakeries. She says this ensures the highest quality and builds a stronger community.

“I really like to support local organic farmers and, from there, I created a lot of local connections and relationships,” she said.

The cafe serves an array of breakfast and lunch fare — from their best-selling avocado parmesan sandwiches and chorizo tacos to cheddar chutney grilled cheese and handmade tortilla chips. To top it off, Maceda also offers handcrafted coffee and espresso beverages.

Located in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood, Cool Hand of a Girl has been a staple of the community for more than a decade. For Maceda, that means upholding values of inclusion and compassion.

“My business is not just for certain people — it’s for everybody,” she said. “We have that community sense and I think that's why we've been able to survive.”

When the pandemic hit, that community rallied around Maceda.

“I was very touched by all the people who came and asked me if I was doing okay,” she said. “The support that I received from my customers was incredible.”

The pandemic forced Maceda to revamp her business model. She started selling her ingredients — produce, spices, tortilla chips and more — out of the cafe. This led to a branded line of handcrafted hot sauces, salsas and guacamole which are soon set to hit shelves in certain retailers across the city.

“I think with COVID-19, we realized how we needed to change,” she said. “Change is always good for our business.”

While Maceda welcomes the changes the pandemic has brought, one thing has remained a constant — community.

She feels the community is just as important to her business as ingredients or menu offerings. When asked what she hopes for the future of her cafe and The Junction, that sense of community remains a priority.

“I really feel the charm of these neighbourhoods comes from diversity, so I really hope The Junction stays that way because that's really what gives life to the neighbourhood,” she said.

“It’s not just about the business for me. It’s about the connections.”