The breakfast burrito that is now served around McDonald’s locations around the world was created by Cuban immigrants. This month, the savory breakfast treat celebrates is 30 year anniversary.
Nelly Quijano came to America in the early 1960s as part of an exodus of 14,000 unaccompanied children sent into exile in the U.S. by their parents after Fidel Castro’s socialist “revolution” took control of the island.
She was just 15 years old when she arrived on a flight with a suitcase carrying a few of her possessions and no money. Today, after decades of hard work, she is a legend among restaurant franchise owners after operating more than 20 McDonald’s in the Houston area with her late husband Dominic Quijano.
The couple invented the McDonald’s breakfast burrito, now served at locations around the world, to satisfy the palates of the growing Latino population. This month, the burrito turns 30, which coincides perfectly with this year’s Hispanic Heritage month celebration.
When a New Jersey textile business Nelly and her husband created burned to the ground, Dominic wanted to rebuild it, but she didn’t see their future in an industry already decaying amid growing imports.
That’s when Quijano focused on the opportunity of owning a McDonald’s restaurant, moving to Houston to open their first franchise in the heavily Hispanic East End on Harrisburg Boulevard. It was there that the they began to experiment with ingredients to create the burrito.
“We Cubans don’t have burritos in our cuisine,” she told the Houston Chronicle, but they realized that in Texas, the offering should be included on the breakfast menu. So, the McDonald Mexican plate was born in their first restaurant kitchen in 1985, after six months of attempts and local customers’ recommendations.
The corporation expanded the offer nationally and later to the world in 1989, where it’s been available ever since.
But Nelly’s accomplishments extend far beyond the world of fast food, helping establish McDonald’s Hispanic American Commitment to Education Resources Foundation — known by its initials, HACER — which has awarded millions of dollars to disadvantaged Hispanic students since it was established in 1985.
“To me, this is about making reality the dreams that we all have when we come to America through the power of education,” Quijano told the Houston Chronicle in 2018. “I wanted to help other kids to get the education that I so much wanted when I came… but with nothing to pay for it.”