In 1942, Salvador Rojas opened his first restaurant in Los Angeles, Calif., and became something of a California hero: according to grandson Joey Duran, Rojas was the original purveyor of chunky guacamole and popularized the dish, taquitos de guacamole [fried rolled tacos with guacamole]. Throughout his life, Rojas, along with his sons, Mike, Manuel and Rudy, owned and operated multiple restaurants in LA. More than 70 years later, Duran, an East West Bank client, continues his family legacy with Tepeyac Restaurant & Tequila Sports Bar in the City of Industry.
It all began in Mexico City, when an apparition of the Virgin Mary came to a man named Juan Diego as he was walking by the Hill of Tepeyac. The location is visited by millions of people every year and one of the most popular Catholic pilgrimage sites—and, as they say, the rest is history. Although many people may be unfamiliar with it, the name “Tepeyac” is well-known amongst Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, and invokes a sense of cultural heritage, says Duran. Those things, combined with the physical and ethnic landscape of LA, made the name a natural fit. In honor of his heritage and his grandfather’s devotion to the Virgin Mary, Duran named his restaurant in the City of Industry “Tepeyac.”
Clearly, the name holds a lot of history with Duran. He opened Tepeyac Restaurant & Tequila Sports Bar on May 5, 2011—Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday that is more synonymous with celebrating Mexican-American culture than its original historical basis. Like his grandfather’s restaurants, Tepeyac is a family-run business. Both his mother, Lolita (Rojas’ daughter), and his sister, Debbie, run different factions of the business. “My mother handles the back office for me,” says Duran. “My sister, our director of marketing and catering, handles our Santa Fe Springs location. She’s also in charge of the catering, which we’re putting a big emphasis on right now.”
"Running a business, you need to provide the best customer service and most consistent food that you can."
The two most important things for operating a successful restaurant are consistency and customer service, believes Duran. “Running a business, you need to provide the best customer service and most consistent food that you can—it’s a daily struggle,” admits Duran. “But we’ve learned over the last six years how to better serve our customers.”
When asked how he makes sure that Tepeyac’s food and service is up to par, Duran simply replies, “Continual training of the staff.” Duran schedules weekly meetings with his managers to discuss what has been working and what can be improved. He is also unafraid to directly confront his staff with any negative reviews on social media. “We live in a very social world, with Yelp and Google and Facebook,” says Duran. “Some of the reviews can be mean, but I take them constructively. I take them back to the staff and tell them, ‘This is what people are thinking about us. Do you want people thinking this about us? How are we going to change it?’”
However, Duran doesn’t just dwell on the negative—he makes sure to share with his employees the positive reviews, as well. Although he knows that not everyone has his passion for the restaurant business, Duran does try to spread his enthusiasm to the employees. “I want them to have the same experience when they go home—that they’re satisfied,” says Duran. “You have to show them: you work here, this is your livelihood, this is what pays your bills. Employee loyalty is a key component to our success, and that’s why I try to be positive with them.”
Even with utmost care and attention, accidents in the restaurant business are unavoidable.
“Another piece of advice to future restaurant owners: be well insured,” Duran suggests with a laugh.
Jennifer Cheung, vice president of private banking at East West Bank, says that restaurants should have two types of business insurance: workers’ compensation and general liability. Workers’ compensation, or workers’ comp, covers medical bills and any lost compensation an employee may have sustained after being injured on the job. General liability is similar, but also protects your business’ assets and pays for any legal services you may need.
“Restaurant insurance can be high, but we provide those services because we believe that we could save them money,” says Cheung. Given the number of different ways an employee or customer can be injured, having these two types of insurance is a good way to protect yourself and your business in the future.
Although it was his family history that helped launch Tepeyac, Duran made it a point to expand and differentiate his business while still remaining true to his heritage. “We’re continuing on the success that started with my grandfather,” notes Duran. “There are a lot of family recipes that we serve, but also some new menu items that I’ve introduced. We have a tequila sports bar—we just got a liquor license a year and a half ago, and that kind of changed the whole makeup of our restaurant. Our signature margaritas and micheladas are some of our most popular drinks that our customers like to have with their food.”
Along with Tepeyac’s second location at the aptly named Heritage Park in Santa Fe Springs, Duran is also exploring alternate methods of dining. As mentioned, Tepeyac’s catering business is steadily growing, and they are also in the process of getting a food truck—a great way to modernize a household name and bring it to a wider audience. “We want to do all the food truck events—get on that circuit,” Duran says of his ambitions. “Golf events, downtown events. Down in Playa Vista, where Apple and a lot of the social media companies have headquarters—they do a lot of food truck events.”
"It’s important to recognize the community and show that you support them—in the restaurant business, your success is in the customer coming back."
Duran highlights the importance of engaging the community with your business. After all, the community is what will support your business, so earning goodwill and creating an appealing environment is extremely important.
“We have to keep things fresh,” says Duran. “We started karaoke. We host wine tastings and tequila tastings once a month. I try to give people a reason to come back and have a little different experience.” His list of special events ranges from serving green beer on St. Patrick’s Day, to hosting Chihuahua races on Tepeyac’s patio for Cinco de Mayo. Every year, Duran also has the Dodgers give autographs at the restaurant; last year, about 350 people came to see Corey Seager, the 2016 Rookie of the Year. “I try to keep activities happening—I don’t want to be just a restaurant,” Duran emphasizes.
Aside from social media, Duran doesn’t use any fancy advertising or marketing tactics to promote his newer ventures; he stays focused on the existing community and customers. “We advertise directly to our customers,” states Duran. “We do direct. People who come and eat here, we’ll give them fliers, handouts.” His strategy, while not state-of-the-art, works for him because of the connections he and his family have worked to build in the community. His sister, Debbie, is very involved in local chambers of commerce, social service clubs, and local city governments, all of which are sources of catering clients. “Quite often they have social gatherings at either an affiliate’s restaurant or at the chambers of commerce,” says Duran. “We go there, exchange information, get business. You start working with the community, they start hiring you for jobs outside of the restaurant.”
Duran also makes sure he gives back to the community as much as he can. “I have a permanent military and police discount,” he says. “On Veteran’s Day, I give a 50 percent discount to all veterans. We are very involved with a toy drive we do every year called Chips for Kids—it’s like Toys For Tots but it’s hosted by the California Highway Patrol. It’s important to recognize the community and show that you support them—in the restaurant business, your success is in the customer coming back.”
"If you’re going to be successful, you need to hire somebody that knows more than you."
Although he comes from several generations of restaurateurs and has a very hands-on approach to management, Joey is aware that he can’t, and doesn’t, know everything. Take Tepeyac’s upcoming food truck: having never owned or ran a food truck, Duran recognized he needed someone experienced to help. “If you’re going to be successful, you need to hire somebody that knows more than you,” says Duran matter-of-factly. “I’m going to hire a person who can put the food truck together, and has the experience and knowledge in setting them up for events in various areas.”
Duran follows a similar approach when it comes to his main restaurant. “Here, I have three managers that rotate, and that’s how we keep this place going,” says Duran. “It’s very important in management that you allow your managers to do what they need to do under the guidelines that you’ve established, but you still got to verify every once in a while. You need to get someone that you trust, but you also need to verify that trust.”
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