Arellano went on to found the El Rodeo chain of Mexican restaurants, which now can be found in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia. Garcia founded the Mexico chain of restaurants, five of which are in the Richmond area (and one in Maryland) and growing fast. All of these restaurants more than 50 on the East Coast are still family-owned, and the third generation of the Garcia-Arellano clan is ready to take the top spots in the family business.
Maria Garcia, José's daughter, knows the secret of their success: "It's the power of family," she says. "People coming together and working hard." She and her two brothers oversee their father's work. Maria says she grew up in the business, acting as a translator for her father who still doesn't speak much English. Her work is a labor of love, but it wasn't always the salsa train of success they are now riding.
"When we first came to Richmond, the first year was really hard," she says. "We didn't think we would make it. But little by little people started coming in."
The appeal is authentic Mexican food that's reasonably priced. The large menu has all the favorites: tacos, enchiladas and burritos. But the fajitas remain the best-seller. Everything is prepared fresh daily, Maria says. And, she boasts, "We have the best margaritas in town."
The family is never complacent about business and it continues to expand. Next on their to-do list is opening a new location on Hull Street in 2004. It's easy to find employees they just look around the breakfast table. Maria can't even count how many relatives are involved. She just promises there will always be someone named Garcia to welcome guests at every location.
Yet achieving the American dream of owning your own business comes at a price: very long hours. "It's like working two full-time jobs, and that's the reason I only have one child," Maria says. She's recruited her husband, Javier Lara, into the business for help and to keep their relationship healthy. "If he didn't join," she says, "we would never see each other."
Her nephew José, 24, grew up with the grueling schedule and doesn't seem to mind the hard work. Already an assistant manager at the Mexico restaurant on Horsepen Road, he says, "I'm stuck here for life, but that's a good thing." As for the future, José will not change a winning formula and is against franchising the business. He's very protective of his legacy. "I don't see us letting anyone buy into it," he says. "We're going to keep it strictly in the family." John WhiteMore cover stories