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From food truck to restaurant, Taqueria Chavez proves dreams come true

Las Cruces Sun-News logo Las Cruces Sun-News 1/20/2020 Damien Willis, Las Cruces Sun-News
a man standing in front of a television: Gonzalo Chavez, pictured Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, owns and operates Taqueria Chavez, which moved from a food truck into a new building in September 2019. The business this year was named a Star Business by the New Mexico Small Business Development Center Network. © Nathan J Fish/Sun-News Gonzalo Chavez, pictured Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, owns and operates Taqueria Chavez, which moved from a food truck into a new building in September 2019. The business this year was named a Star Business by the New Mexico Small Business Development Center Network.

LAS CRUCES - For more than 15 years, Gonzalo Chavez has dreamed of owning his own restaurant. After overcoming tragedy, that dream has come true.

But his success has not come without struggle.

The way the owner and chef of Taqueria Chavez tells it, the restaurant’s very existence is the result of divine guidance and unconditional love.

He credits his wife, Alejandra — whom he lost to cancer in 2003 — with guiding his journey and encouraging him to pursue his passion.

Gonzalo’s story

Born in Colima, Mexico, Chavez moved to the United States in 1976. He worked as a welder for 20 years, from 1983 to 2003. And, as a welder, Chavez could do it all — aluminum, stainless steel — no challenge was insurmountable.

“I thought I was one of the best welders in the United States,” he said, “though I’m sure there were a lot of them up there.”

Sometimes, when Chavez got off work early, he would stop on his way home to help a friend who had a taco truck.

“I would go and help him out in my spare time,” he said. “I think I have probably been cooking for over 30 years. It turned out to be something I really love. Every dish I cook is special.”

From torches to tacos

After Alejandra was diagnosed with cancer, her health deteriorated quickly. The doctors caught it late and it had begun to spread. The prognosis wasn’t good.

“She was getting sicker and sicker,” he said. “She was worried about our kids, you know? And I really wanted to do all I could to make her comfortable. She didn’t want to leave us.”

Having seen how much he enjoyed helping out at his friend’s taco truck, she had long encouraged him to quit his job as a welder, get his own truck and start his own business.

“When she got sick, I told her I was going to do this so I would be able to spend more time with the kids,” Chavez said.

He bought his food truck in 2003 — about a year after she passed away. The family was living in Modesto, California, at the time.

The taco truck

Struggling with the sadness of the family’s recent loss and needing a change of scenery and a fresh start, Chavez drove his new mobile business to Las Cruces. It was New Year’s Day in 2004.

“I wanted to move. I just couldn’t handle it,” he said.

How he settled in Las Cruces remains a mystery. He believes God must have been leading the way.

“That’s something I just can’t explain, to this day,” he said. “I knew about Las Cruces, because of when I used to go and visit family in Colima.”

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After arriving in Las Cruces, he began selling his tacos and burritos from a vacant lot on North Solano Drive. One day, he was asked to move. So Chavez found another location — this one on Main Street. Soon enough, someone would come along and ask him to move. It was a scenario that would unfold time and time again, until 2005.

“In 2005, I was driving up Lohman and saw a sign saying this property was for sale,” he said. “I decided I was going to try to buy it. I bought it in 2005, and I’ve been here ever since.”

For 14 years, the Taqueria Chavez food truck served tacos and burritos in that dirt lot to a loyal clientele. Still, he dreamed of one day owning his own restaurant.

a man sitting at a table with food: For 14 years, the Taqueria Chavez food truck served tacos and burritos in a dirt lot to a loyal clientele. But Gonzalo Chavez, pictured Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, always dreamed of running a restaurant out of a building. That dream came true in September 2019. © Nathan J Fish/Sun-News For 14 years, the Taqueria Chavez food truck served tacos and burritos in a dirt lot to a loyal clientele. But Gonzalo Chavez, pictured Friday, Jan. 17, 2020, always dreamed of running a restaurant out of a building. That dream came true in September 2019.

Tragedy averted, loan approved

After a few unsuccessful attempts at securing funding for a restaurant, Chavez found some help. JoAnn Garay at the Small Business Development Center at Doña Ana Community College assisted Chavez with business paperwork and helped him secure a $560,000 loan from the Small Business Administration.

But the good news came at a scary time for the Chavez family. Chavez had just suffered a major heart attack and was hospitalized in Ciudad Juárez.

“I was feeling sick and asked my daughter to take me to see my doctor,” he said. “And it happened right there, luckily. I was at the hospital already.”

Following quadruple-bypass surgery, Chavez was in a recovery room and decided to go through his phone. He saw he’d missed a call from Norma Valdez, a community development director with The Loan Fund. He called her back and learned that his application had been approved.

“I thought I was going to have another heart attack, right there on the spot,” he laughed.

That was in 2018, and soon construction was underway. The new restaurant celebrated its grand opening on Sept. 3, 2019.

a man cooking in a kitchen preparing food: Gonzalo Chavez is pictured at his restaurant Taqueria Chavez in Las Cruces on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The business is currently expanding its dining area. © Nathan J Fish/Sun-News Gonzalo Chavez is pictured at his restaurant Taqueria Chavez in Las Cruces on Friday, Jan. 17, 2020. The business is currently expanding its dining area.

Expanding soon

The new restaurant was an instant hit — with both long-time customers and Taqueria Chavez newcomers. And Chavez felt like he was living in a dream.

“This restaurant is a dream come true. The kitchen is so big, so roomy,” Chavez said.

Last week, Taqueria Chavez was named a Star Business by the New Mexico Small Business Development Center Network — a notable honor enjoyed by only a few businesses each year. Taqueria Chavez will be recognized Feb. 10 at a special banquet at La Fonda on the Plaza in Santa Fe. Chavez said he has also been invited to speak and share his story at an upcoming small business conference next month in Albuquerque.

Meanwhile, construction began recently on a 400-square-foot expansion to Taqueria Chavez’s dining room.

“Sometimes, we just don’t have enough space,” Chavez said. “And I want for my customers to be comfortable.”

The new dining area will also include two additional televisions. While no firm completion date has been set, the construction is expected to be finished soon. The restaurant remains open, and operations are not being impacted.

Chavez offers words of encouragement to anyone with a dream to pursue:

“For anyone who wants to start a business — for anyone who has a dream — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise,” he said. “Pursue your dreams, and eventually it will happen.”

If you go:

What: Taqueria Chavez

Where: 1400 East Lohman Ave.

When: 

  • Monday: 10 a.m.-8 p.m.
  • Tuesday-Saturday: 9 a.m.-9 p.m.
  • Sunday: Closed

Contact: 575-650-2847

Online:  https://taqueriachavez.com/ or Taqueria Chavez on Facebook.

Damien Willis is a Lead Reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can be reached at 575-541-5443, dwillis@lcsun-news.com or @DamienWillis on Twitter.

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This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: From food truck to restaurant, Taqueria Chavez proves dreams come true

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