WENATCHEE — Cesar and Maria Padilla really like each other.
They think that’s why they work together so well.
“He respects me for what I do, and I respect what he does,” Maria says.
“She is a very smart woman,” Casar says
The couple, who own and operate Taco Loco Taqueria in Wenatchee, laugh a lot as they share their experiences in restauranting and in life. They’ve been married 30 years.
Both grew up in Mexico and met while taking English language classes in California.
“She was beautiful,” Casar remembers.
Maria grins and says, “He was a nice formal guy.”
The restaurant industry has been Cesar’s focus since he was a young adult, washing dishes and bussing tables at restaurants.
When an opportunity to work with a relative, who had just opened Taco Loco in 1997, came up, they jumped at the chance to move here.
“We both grew up in small towns and wanted our kids to be raised in a small town,” Maria says.
Within a year, they had agreed to buy the restaurant and run it themselves. Cesar said he was not nervous about owning a business because he had had a year to learn the ropes.
The restaurant is tiny, with seating for 27, and resembles many small restaurants in Mexico. There is a large, hand-painted mural on one wall, which depicts scenes from Wenatchee and Mexico. A smaller mural on the opposite wall shows Mexican scenes.
The Padillas describe Taco Loco as a cross between fast food and fine dining, and note that they also do take-out.
The menu is diverse, with burritos, tacos, quesadillas, and seafood dishes. The Padillas are hard-pressed to say which menu item is the most popular.
“It depends on the weather,” Maria says. “When it’s hot outside, people like light; when it’s winter, they want warm things.”
But the Super Burrito is probably their most popular item, they say. It is filled with rice, beans, salsa, guacamole, cheese, sour cream and a choice of meat.
Personally, Cesar says, he favors the seafood dishes, with the Sopa de Mariscos being his top choice. It is a soup made with shrimp, fish, scallops, clams, octopus, crab, zucchini, carrots and celery.
Maria likes the Fajita Burrito, which is a large flour tortilla filled with rice, beans, cheese, sour cream and pork with green sauce on top.
The couple says they like keeping the restaurant small, with Casar doing the ordering from vendors and cooking, Maria waitressing, and one other full-time employee cooking and doing odd jobs.
Maria says Cesar is “very organized. He knows how to do all the business with the vendors. He is a perfectionist and hard-working.”
Cesar is grateful for Maria’s people skills.
“She is a very nice and friendly person, and a hard worker,” he says.
From 2002 to 2015, the Padillas and Maria’s brother also operated El Sol restaurant in Wenatchee but found it too much work to run two restaurants.
What’s the hardest thing about operating a small business? “It’s a lot of work,” Maria says. “You have to be really persistent and work hard.”
The best thing? Having their three, now grown, children work at the restaurant as they were growing up. Their daughters are Itzel and Aracely; and their son is Cesar. While the parents let the children put school, sports and fun ahead of working at the restaurant, they say their children learned good work ethics from their jobs.
“We are so happy we did it that way,” says Maria. “We raised our kids at the same time we were working, like a family.”
Their son still works at the restaurant many weekends and the daughters help out when needed, she says.
“They learned how to be with people,” Maria says. “They got a lot of experiences of life.”
The Padillas keep ties with Mexico, traveling to Guadalajara for a month in mid-winter. The restaurant is usually closed from mid-December to mid-January.
Cesar says he really enjoys cooking, coming up with different ingredients and experimenting.
For Maria, the best thing is the customers. “Every day, it’s different people and your day is never the same. I enjoy people a lot.”
The Padillas say they like each other’s company, both at work and at home.
“A lot of people can’t be together 24-7 but we can,” she says.
They say they have no plans to retire soon. Casar laughs and says they’ll keep working, “until we pass away.”