Pacífico Heras started his first restaurant in 1988 in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, offering Northern Mexican food with some influence from his native Sinaloa, on the Pacific Coast. Heras wanted to offer high-quality food in a relaxed, convenient atmosphere at reasonable prices.
Heras’ first restaurant was small, with six or seven tables for customers and just four employees. “It was an ugly restaurant,” he remembers, “but the quality of the food made the business prosper. We continued investing what we made into the restaurant and we grew.” Two years later, he opened his second restaurant, with better design and more staff. Today, the company has 14 restaurants in the United States and seven in Mexico.
El Taco Tote opened its first location in the United States in Laredo, Texas, in 1994. “We changed our image, made it more modern, cleaner. We improved the service and made the décor more sophisticated,” Heras explains. “What we did not change was the quality of our food. Our tortillas are still handmade and our meat is the same high quality.”
All in the Family
Although the company has made some incursions into franchising, it is still run mostly by family members. Karla Heras, Pacífico’s niece, is the vice president of the company. “I grew up with the business,” she explains. “The first Taco Tote was across from my high school, so I used to go there every day and my father would pick me up from there.” Heras grew up with this food. “When we get together as a family,” she notes, “we eat the same food that is served at El Taco Tote.”
When Heras started working at Taco Tote in 2006, she became the liaison between employees and the corporate office, changed the look of the menus, centralized human resources and brought all the marketing for the restaurants in-house.
Having his family helping with the business is important to Pacífico Heras. “When you have a business, you have to take care of it, you have to be there, making sure everything is done correctly,” Heras explains. “It is the only way businesses prosper.” With his brothers, nieces and nephews involved in the business, he has eyes in each one of his locations.
Heras, who lives in El Paso, visits one of the chain’s six locations in the area three or four times a week, sometimes every day. “In those visits you find details, things that can be improved,” he notes. “I look at the restaurants from the point of view of the customer, trying to see what they see to improve their experience. [The restaurant] is like a child – you’ve been taking care of it since birth, so you just can’t let go.”
Passion for Food
Pacífico Heras’ passion for great food runs in the family. “My parents had a restaurant in Sinaloa,” he recalls. “I started helping out in the kitchen when I was 12 years old and became interested in cooking.”
For Heras, the secret to success is the quality of the food served at El Taco Tote.“It is very important that everything we serve is fresh,” he notes. “We make six or seven different types of salsa every day, the guacamole is made daily.We also believe that meat should be cooked and served immediately. Just like when you go to somebody’s house, the meat is pulled out of the grill and served right away; you don’t eat it the next day.”
This unyielding demand for high quality has helped the company survive and thrive in spite of a fluctuating economy and fierce competition.
“Client levels rise and fall with the economy,” Heras observes. “There are places where you can buy tacos for 99 cents. We are not that type of restaurant; we’re at a different level. When you eat at our restaurants, you see exactly what you are eating; we use only high-quality fresh meat that has never been frozen. Our facilities are clean and we take pride in our excellent customer service.”
The Heras family plans to continue to offer great-quality food at great prices for years to come. And although their area of focus continues to be the Southwest, they don’t discard moving north in the future.