Corina Figueroa’s Star QualityJul 01, 2022 11:00AM ● By Dave Zorko
Photo by Bill Sitzmann
Intelligence and ambition can yield great results. Such is the case with Corina Figueroa, chef at Lola’s on 50th and Dodge streets, which shares space with Film Streams Dundee.
Figueroa’s path to being head chef at Lola’s began at her home in Mexico City, Mexico, where she said that she has “always loved food…always been very hungry.” She also said her father taught her “how to eat anything,” and no matter what it was that she should “try it just once, if you don’t like it, you don’t have to try it ever again.”
She enjoyed food, but first obtained a chemical engineering degree in Mexico. She then traveled to New York City in 2010 to study audio engineering at the SAE Institute. There, Figueroa was cooking for herself, but found greater joy in cooking for others and as a “way to connect with people.” Then in 2015, Figueroa moved from New York to Omaha. A year later she started a Mediterranean-influenced catering concept that would be the foundation of the food later found at Lola’s. This effort functioned for about two years with a coworker, then solo for a couple of years.
Lola’s other partners—general manager Clare Watson Bartolomei, Philip Schaffart, and baker/barista Stephen Bartolomei—collaborated with Figueroa to create a dream together. That dream was built on friendship. Figueroa’s connection started with Schaffart in 2007 when they met in Mexico City during a music tour. Figueroa was the promoter and Schaffart was with a touring band. Her connection with Stephen and Clare began in Omaha on New Year's Eve 2007 while Figueroa was visiting her boyfriend.
Fast forward to 2019. Clare and Stephen returned from New York to Omaha and, with Figueroa, were planning on creating a catering company. Separately Schaffart got connected to Film Streams and called Figueroa. As she said, “[In] the end I guess we were all at the right place at the right time.”
Figueroa had no formal training as a chef. Owning partner Shaffart relayed that, “Corina had never chef'd or even cooked in a commercial kitchen prior to opening Lola's. She's also never managed a staff or a restaurant.”
Figueroa pressed forward, driven by her love of food. She relayed that the menu “came out of what we wanted to eat, what we like to eat, the places we visited, a lot of romantic ideas of what a cafe/restaurant should be like.” That menu features in-house breads baked by Bartolomei and has simple, elevated, sandwiches like the Toastie—made with scrambled eggs, prosciutto, and parmigiano reggiano on rosemary focaccia. It also features a favorite of Figueroa’s, the Spanish Tortilla, which is a sliced potato and onion omelet served with salad, grilled sourdough, and crushed tomato.
Figueroa, until her recent hire of a sous chef, ran “the kitchen entirely…the menu…ordering…[and] managing of the back of house. Clare handles the front of house and then Steve does the coffee program and is the lead baker.” Figueroa is the dominant force behind the menu and said she likes to recreate things she herself craves or has seen in a picture. She said she is inspired by food that she cooks and that she reads a lot of books and magazines. “Eating different things is just such an inspiration…keeps [me] fresh and makes me excited.”
Additionally she enjoys seasonal ingredients, but that it can be a challenge in that, “there’s like a point in the season where it’s like fashion where you don’t know what to wear. Do I wear [a] sweater or do I wear sandals?” She is looking forward to working with different vegetables, cooking techniques, and she mentioned that she “might experiment with fish, [but she is] hesitant as we’re not on the coast.”
The aforementioned sous chef was hired at a pivotal time, as Figueroa decided to take a vacation and then broke her leg while snowboarding. In late April, Figueroa was about to return to the kitchen.
The self-taught culinarian tackles her dreams, whatever they may be—whether chemical, audio, or culinary—with a side of snowboarding. She keeps moving forward with purpose. “She's a total badass, super-determined, and tough as hell. The amount of time, effort, and pain she's put into transforming from a hobbyist to a professional…what she's done is impossible, really,” Schaffart said.
Tackling all of the first-time responsibilities of running a kitchen restaurant—from menus to management, came as part of the business. Figueroa said, “I just, like, had to do it…this had to happen...you don’t know how to run a restaurant, but you have to do it. The drive was the people that work for us, [you] have to keep going. So I guess that’s my process…do it.”
“Do it” and succeed. With her first restaurant venture doing well and her hunger to succeed in overdrive, Figueroa will continue to carve her own adventures while her patrons benefit from her ambitions.
Visit lolasomaha.com for more information.
This article originally appeared in the July/August 2022 issue of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.