No Place Like Home-Made for Local Taco Shop

AL PASTOR The key to the success for Juan Diaz’s Tacos Ameca is homemade tortillas and a handmade touch cutting sirloin in a vertical griller. 

Juan Diaz, 34, started selling tacos four years ago from a truck in a parking lot at Farrell Avenue and Monterey Road, when he found the secret to growing his business was giving people what they would get in Mexico.
He was making $20 a day putting his barbecued meat on store-bought tortillas, when he asked his employees what he could do better. They told him to put the meat on the homemade corn tortillas like mom used to make.
Voila! His business went from $20 to $600 in one day.
“It’s a big jump! The numbers don’t lie,” he recalled.
A year and a half later, he had a permanent location for his Tacos Ameca (7001 Monterey St.) at one of Gilroy’s busiest intersections off 10th Street. He kept a second location at Farrell and Monterey Road) and plans to expand to Morgan Hill.
The restaurant’s name comes from his Mexican hometown, Ameca, in the state of Jalisco. His success is pure Horatio Alger– an American dream come true.
He started working at the Gilroy clothing store, Smart and Final, moving up to assistant manager. He saved $30,000 and invested in a trailer and barbeque, hiring three workers to sell his tacos from the Pinocchio’s parking lot at Farrell, while still working his day job. He paid his employees from his Smart and Final pay checks until the business took off. He sold out of the truck until late at night, and before long, there was always a line.
Now, it’s that way in his two restaurants.
Diaz works daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. Upon entering the restaurant he is seen over the counter; slicing al pastor meat from the Trompo (special vertical rotisserie for al pastor meat); making and serving orders to customers.
“You can’t find sirloin tacos like these anywhere in San Francisco,” he said. “There’s no other place that makes them like this, only Mexico and here. We make a huge taco, with salsa, guacamole, cilantro.”
Customers say they get a great deal on serving smaller tacos for $2.70-or bigger ones for $6.75 and up. There’s a gigantic torta or foot-long sandwich for $16 with three meats that could feed a family of four.
Take this Yelp review from Earl G. in Burlingame:
“An authentic taqueria as they come!
Loud banda music in the parking lot. Check.
Fired up grill in the parking lot to cook meats. Check.
I was the only non-Latino inside. Check.
Huge rotisserie of fresh al pastor rotating like a carousel of meaty deliciousness. Check.
Workers dancing and slicing meat to the rhythm of the duranguense music playing (faster than banda). Check.
Soft and pliable Fresh HANDMADE tortillas the size of my forearm with the light taste of sweet corn. So delicious. Check.
Ordered 4 tacos, $2.80 each. They have pastor, asada, lengua, pollo, cabeza, chorizo, chicharron. I didn’t but order the grilled onions to go along with your tacos. They really hook up the meat! Then fix up your your tacos with their solid salsa bar – limes, radish, onions, cilantro, pico, roja, and my favorite the verde sauce. “
Said Jesse V. of Morgan Hill: “I was amazed by the place. I went in here for a burrito and got more then what I expected. Definitely a true piece of real mexican food very close to what my family eats. The burritos are very large but packed with taste. This place will fill you up.”
What Diaz believes that makes the taqueria unique from others is the ‘Tacos Al Pastor’ made fresh by their “Trompo” slicing the layers as the meat spins around from the vertical rotisserie. He has a professional taco maker from Tijuana–a taquero–who spends eight months of the year in Gilroy making special sirloin tacos.
On a good weekend day the business can make about $15,000. He pays out $70,000 a month for employees
His biggest competitor is the local chain, Super Taqueria, which has an outlet half a block away.
His toughest challenge was getting his building built on 10th Street. The contractor didn’t finish the work on time and his cash flow hit bottom. His loyal employees worked for free until the renovations were done and the business hit maximum blast.
“I would ask faith to the employees to work for me and they worked for free and I paid them later. They knew what was coming and they worked for free and I value them with all my heart. It was like that for three or four months when it opened.”
Weekends the place is packed and offers mariachi and Karaoki. On slow days, Diaz used to cook tacos outdoors on a big grill to attract attention. But there are fewer slow days now.
He plans to add outdoor service with waiters, sirloin charcoal grill and a beer garden.
Diaz’s sums the business up this way: “If rocks is what we sell, rocks is what they will buy.”

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