One-man show: Coahuila native a Laredo restaurant success

May 5, 2008 at 10:25 am Leave a comment

Gyros exterior

photos by A.J. Miranda

Accounting Graduate Turned Restaurateur

A.J. Miranda / Adelante staff
Volume II, Issue 3 (Crossing Borders)

LAREDO, TX — The most important steps Miguel Requena took on the day of his university graduation were not the steps leading to the stage to collect his accounting diploma. In fact, Requena never took those steps.

Requena, a 25-year-old graduate of Texas A&M International University in Laredo, Texas, skipped his own graduation ceremony, instead choosing to walk to the front door of his new north Laredo restaurant – a small yet classy strip mall taquería called Gyros.

“The day that I opened here,” Requena says in Spanish, tapping at the surface of a glossy faux-granite tabletop, “was the day of my graduation. So I did not go to my graduation.”

“This was my graduation,” Requena says, casually switching between Spanish and English. A native of Coahuila, Mexico, Requena has lived off and on in the U.S. since participating in a foreign exchange program during his senior year of high school in 1998.

That college graduation day was May 13, 2006. He spent most of his final semester forming a business plan, securing loans, filing for permits and constructing most of the inside of the 1,000-square-feet space.

He was happy to own a business, but the first six months saw Requena losing lots of money and sleep, while gaining stress and unpaid bills. Gyros had only two other employees: his girlfriend and a cook. Requena acted as a waiter, cook, dishwasher, accountant and all-around handyman.

“I was like a one-man show,” he says in English.

Now – two years and a booming business later – the stocky, clean-cut Requena smiles wide when he recounts the story. “Now, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel,” he says.

Gyros interior

The idea of being his own boss appealed to Requena in January 2006. He saw many of his friends graduate, only to have trouble finding work. He knew he wanted to start a business but did not know which kind.

“It was an economic decision,” Requena says about opening a restaurant. He had no chef or restaurant experience, but he had one certainty: “What do people need everyday? They need food.”

Gyros is an unusual name for a taco shop, but then it is not the usual taquería.

The sign outside is spelled in a type style reminiscent of the Greek alphabet. If not for the big painted letters advertising tacos on the floor-to-ceiling windows, one might assume it is anything but a Mexican restaurant.

“Eighty percent of the people who come here, they say, ‘I saw the sign and I did not know what this was,’ ” Requena says.

No Greek or Mediterranean food is served at Gyros. The menu is a collection of recipes from friends and family from Monterrey and Coahuila. Requena took the name Gyros because he liked the idea that people in another part of the world eat what is essentially a taco, wrapped in pita bread instead of a tortilla.

The restaurant has a clean, simplistic layout and design with glossy tables and light muted green ceramic tiles. The ceiling is high and the walls are plain white, though decorated with pictures of Gyros’ lunch plates.

Requena prides himself on his personal service. The restaurant now employs eight people, but Requena still spends most of the day serving and overseeing the cooks. The one duty he absolutely has to do himself is to make the marinade for the al pastor tacos, a staple of the Gyros menu.

The economic genius behind selling tacos, he says, is that it only requires four basic meats (pork, chicken, sirloin, beef) and three types of tortillas (corn, flour, wheat). Toss in assorted toppings, such as pineapple and cheese, for variety.

“You do the permutations, and the combinations are endless,” he says. Always thinking like an accountant.

Gyros food

Some Gyros favorites include the al pastor super taco and the Hawaiiana – a pastor taco with the above-mentioned pineapple and melted cheese. A lunch plate, which includes six al pastor tacos with borracho beans, goes for $4.99.

The tacos en lechuga were also his idea. These consist of al pastor pork wrapped in lettuce leaves instead of tortillas.

“It is for the guilty people,” Requena says with a chuckle.

Though the first year was rough, Requena says that his business is now successful and he is getting more sleep than he did this time last year. He never spent a dollar on advertising; word of mouth has been Requena’s friend.

Requena says his plate is full for now with owning and managing one restaurant, but he has not ruled out starting another business sooner rather than later.

“In another year, we’ll see,” he says.

————————————————

This story has been corrected from the print version: Requena’s graduation date was May 13, 2006, not May 24. Also, the restaurant’s listed size was converted from meters to feet.

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