Michael Berton, Hotel Owner
YL: When did you move to the Yucatan and from where did you move?
Michael: My partner and I moved to Merida permanently in September of 2012 from Columbus, Ohio, USA.
YL: Why did you move?
Michael: To open a business with my life partner, Robert Klie: Villa Verde Merida, a B&B, Boutique Inn and event space “hybrid”. We were both looking to create our own business and combine our skills and talents. My background is in both hospitality and design, Robert’s background is in marketing at an international architecture firm for 25 years.
YL: Why did you choose the city you now live in over other places in the world?
Michael: We have loved visiting Merida for more than a decade and knew it was the right place. We considered a business in our home city or here... we only considered those two options. Merida won!
YL: Did you buy a house right away or rent first? Do you think you made the right decision?
Michael: We shopped for “just the right spot" for about six months over four separate visits until we found our beautiful historic location.
YL: Are you doing now what you intended to do when you moved here? If not, why not?
Michael: Yes... and we love it! Villa Verde Merida was an instant hit which was a bit unexpected, but delightfully so. We expected a gradual start to our business and BOOM! We sold out for nearly 2.5 months after the opening date. We intend to do much more than just the hotel, however. I am already working on a cookbook with a publisher, we are hosting and volunteering our space for nonprofit and charitable groups, we make all our own relishes and salsas (and breakfasts of course!), and we are about to landscape our back garden with organic fruits, vegetables and herbs. It’s an exciting time!
YL: What are the most interesting things about living here for you?
Michael: The creativity and liveliness of the city are palpable. There is energy all around!
YL: What do you absolutely love about living here?
Michael: Our home, our business, our neighbors and the city!
YL: What do you miss from your "former life"?
Michael: Our families and friends, of course. That is the toughest part of being so far away. Phoning and Skyping are never the same as being there!
YL: What don’t you miss from your "former life"?
Michael: We don’t miss the structure of our old lives when we were working in the corporate world. Working in those jobs limited our creativity and allowed us so little time to really smell the roses.
YL: What is your favorite local food?
Michael: Robert and I stopped at a roadside cocina economica on our way to Valladolid and had duck panuchos once. I still dream about that meal and those flavors sometimes!
YL: What is your favorite time of year here and why?
Michael: Every month because of the fabulous weather. Except for May. Wipe my brow and I’ll tell you why…
YL: Where else have you traveled in Mexico?
Michael: We have traveled to Tijuana, Guadalajara, Tonala, Puerto Vallarta (and the rain forest above in the mountains), Mismaloya, Mexico City, Playa del Carmen, Isla Mujeres, Cozumel, Cancun, Tulum, Valladolid, Izamal, Puerto Morelos, Celestun, Progreso, Sisal, and many many villages near or on the way to these towns.
YL: Where do you take guests who visit you here to show them something really special?
Michael: We vary our trips to different locales depending on the season. But our trips always include the haciendas. Also, Uxmal and Celestun are two of our other favorite places to go.
YL: The last time you went out to dinner, where did you go and why?
Michael: The new La Tratto in Santa Lucia. It has great food and service and is in our neighborhood!
YL: Do you have friends from the local community or do you pretty much hang with the expatriate crowd?
Michael: Our newest “best friend” is a local and a neighbor. We try to be friends with lots of people. We like to learn things from my friendships and if we wanted all gringo friends, we could have stayed in the states!
YL: If you are working or own a business, what is it like owning and running a business here or working here? How is it different from doing the same thing in your country of origin?
Michael: Perhaps there is more creative opportunity here in a city and country where things are not as “homogenized” as they have become in the States.
YL: Do you find it more or less difficult to make a living here than in your country of origin?
Michael: I have two answers for you. One, it is more satisfying and more rewarding making a living at what I love here. The second version of the answer is influenced by the self doubt one has when jumping off the “corporate grid” in the States where each paycheck and all the benefits were assured every two weeks of the calendar as long as you do your job.
YL: Are your work habits different here?
Michael: Very! We both had jobs that were more scheduled and once we left work, we were on our own free time. At Villa Verde, we are sometimes having to be available 24/7. But there are always gaps in the day to have a cool swim or dart out to see the Yucatan Symphony.
YL: Did you speak Spanish when you moved here? Where did you learn Spanish (if you did)? Is the language barrier a problem for you in your daily life?
Michael: We are learning slowly from our wonderful neighbors and employees, but also plan to enroll in a class this summer at the school called Calle 55.
YL: What interesting Spanish word or saying have you learned lately? What does it mean and how did you learn it?
Michael: The latest one I remember is a slang phrase used as a greeting... it makes me chuckle: Je Rey! It seems to be a young/youth texting thing. It kind of means “Hey King!” but "hey rey" rhymes, kind of like "later gator" in the States.
YL: Are you a Mexican citizen? Do you plan to become one?
Answer: I am a legal resident but wish to become a citizen when I am able.
YL: How are you treated by Mexicans? Do you feel resented or welcome?
Michael: Very welcome. As I said, we have been visiting for years and were immediately impressed by the kindness and sheer patience of the Yucatecans.
YL: How do you feel about the economic prospects of Mexico? Of the Yucatan?
Michael: We feel very positive about the outcome, even though the peso dropped a bit recently. Mexico has such rich resources and talented people. The rise in economy can only happen.
YL: What are some changes you are hoping for in the city in which you live? Do you see any progress towards these changes?
Michael: Better sidewalks and fewer buses would be nice.
YL: What are your plans for the future here?
Michael: We have many plans with our hotel. Not just as a business, but as a way to get more involved and support the local community, the arts and of course, the dog shelters (We have two rescue dogs!). Aside for the new homemade products and cookbook, we will also be rolling out the new Villa Verde Merida blog in July!
YL: What is the one most important piece of advice you would give someone buying property and/or planning a move to the Yucatan?
Michael: Don’t buy on a whim with your first visit. Get to know the city and its culture and then when you love it, you’ll know when the time is right! Also, subscribe to and read YucatanLiving.com often to learn as much as you can about the city while you are still abroad.
YL: If you could say something to all the people of Mexico, what would you say?
Michael: Thank you for embracing us and our business so warmly and so closely. Un mil saludos!
YL: If there is anything else you would like to add for our readers (people interested in or considering moving to the Yucatan, former Yucatecans, people planning to visit for an extended tour, etc.)?
Michael: It is an amazing city with so many layers. At first glance or visit, it may seem like one thing. Then the next visit, you peel back another layer to see and feel another Merida. We are still discovering a new fascinating layer each week!
Editor's Note: Michael and Robert own Villa Verde Merida, a small hotel in downtown Merida. They are also planning the first-ever White City Ball as a benefit for AANY. The ball will be held at Villa Verde Merida and the date is tentatively set for Saturday October 19th, 2013. The ball will feature live music from a classical trio in the portico and a DJ for music and dancing by the pool, hors d’oeuvres and botanas, mulitple bars, a silent auction and giveaways. The event is designed to support AANY and the local artisans who benefit from the organization. Attendees will be invited to dress in their favorite or most outlandish white costumes and outfits, and the hotel will be decorated all in white to honor Merida as the White City (white flowers, white linens, white fabric, symphony trio in white, etc.). Everyone is invited, but attendance will be limited to 200. Attendees will be able to purchase individual tickets or reserve an entire table. More to come later. Stay tuned to Yucatan Living for information when tickets are available.