There is a saying, “What goes around, comes around.”
Local restauranteur Juan Gonzalez knows first-hand when you give, you receive. For much of his early years, Gonzalez, owner of Señor Taco I and II, was the recipient of lots of hands up. A native of Cotija, Michoacán, Mexico, Gonzalez quit school when he was 16 so he could help his parents enjoy a better quality of life.
Gonzalez obtained a fake ID to enable him to work as a dishwasher full-time and to earn overtime.
He went to California and worked in Guerneville. His father worked at Korbel Champagne Cellars and became plant manager for the business. Gonzalez still has family in Sonoma and Napa valleys.
After one season in California, Gonzalez learned of an opportunity at a Jewish country club in New York in 1991.
The club provided housing and insurance for employees. Gonzalez said he didn’t make a lot of money, but since he didn’t have to pay for a place to live, he was able to save.
He parked cars for four years and knew the longer he stayed in the United States, the more he wanted it to be his home.
He did not speak English and decided he would have to learn the language in order to progress in this country.
“I started watching TV, and I sat with English-speaking workers instead of the Latinos,” he said.
He stayed at the country club for nearly 10 years. He parked cars, worked as a busboy in the dining room and eventually had a job as a waiter and bartender.
At the end of 2000, Gonzalez had proposed to his girlfriend, Erika, who was still in Mexico. He shared the news with the club members.
“They started acting weird toward me,” he said. “I asked my coworkers if I had done something wrong, but everyone said everything was okay.”
He wasn’t sure what was happening, but he continued making plans for his wedding. Just after Thanksgiving, he was called to the office.
“They announced over the loudspeaker that I needed to come to the main office,” Gonzalez said.
He said he was afraid it was a family emergency and hurried to the office.
“There were board members and the general manager in the office,” he said.
“He (the manager) handed me an envelope, and I put it in my apron pocket,” he said. “I didn’t know what it was.”
He said he got curious and took a break to see what was in the envelope.
“It was a card signed by every member of the club,” he said. “And $5,000.”
People had been behaving differently because the card was being passed around, and money was being collected. The members wanted to keep it a secret.
After New York, Juan and Erika endured some hardships. They were living in a home in California, paying a friend the mortgage payment.
“One day, I came home from work, and there was an eviction notice,” Gonzalez said. “The guy wasn’t paying for the house. He was just keeping the money. We lost everything.”
At that time, Juan and Erika had one son, Daniel, who was two. She was pregnant with their second child, Santiago.
“We were pretty scared,” he said. “I didn’t know what we were going to do.”
Gonzalez took a temporary job in San Diego running a restaurant.
While he was in California, a cousin from Mesa called to let him know a restaurant was opening in Litchfield Park and asked Gonzalez if he would be interested in running it.
While working in Litchfield Park, the founder of Señor Taco, Reynaldo Ruiz, asked if Gonzalez would be interested in opening a restaurant of his own. Without the resources, Gonzalez thought it would be impossible to take Ruiz up on his offer. After some negotiations, some assistance from his father and the final decision to take over what was called Señor Taco in Fountain Hills, Gonzalez became a big part of the community.
The restaurant was closed for two months for renovations. On July 19, 2009, the Gonzalez family and all those who had helped make the dream come true celebrated the grand opening of Señor Taco at Saguaro and Shea boulevards.
Three years later, Señor Taco II opened on Fountain Hills Boulevard.
In the ensuing years, Gonzalez has returned the favor 100-fold to those who helped him in his journey.
He provides gift certificates to award students at local schools. He does countless other things for the schools, and offers fundraisers to different groups in the community.
Next Friday, Jan. 24, he will give 10 percent of sales all day long to Fearless Kitty Rescue. Both restaurants will participate.
“I’m very excited about it,” Gonzalez said. “It’s just another way to give back.”
In all, Gonzalez knows his life is blessed. People have been kind to him, people have helped him, people have been there for him when he needed them. And what he wants to do is to return the favor. He certainly is doing that.