Authority Magazine
Published in

Authority Magazine

Derek Gonzalez Of Pilo’s Tequila Garden: 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became a Restauranteur

Connections are crucial for success. Many people in the restaurant industry are incredibly well connected, as most have come from a nightlife or promoter background. I came from the finance world and didn’t grow up in the early-2000s. I had to learn how to network quickly and effectively. During this time, people made a name for themselves. That time turned out to be crucial for their success.

As part of our series about the lessons from influential ‘Tastemakers,’ I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Derek Gonzalez.

Derek Gonzalez, founder of Pilo’s Street Tacos, is making waves in the greater Miami-area for his inclusive hiring practices and innovative financial decisions. Not only has his restaurants become celebrity magnets, attracting the biggest names in hip-hop and entertainment, but he has become one of the largest employers of adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. His mission is to help them achieve their dreams, increase their independence and provide companionship. Prior to launching Pilo’s, Derek had a successful career in finance and wealth management. The name “Pilo” comes from Derek’s aunt, Pilo, who had down syndrome and 20% of Pilo’s Tacos employees have special abilities. Pilo’s Tacos partners with several local organizations, such as Best Buddies of South Florida, Our Pride Academy, and Gigi’s Playhouse.

Can you share with our readers a story about what inspired you to become a restaurateur?

I am a first-generation Mexican immigrant, born in Greenville, South Carolina. My mother is from Mexico, and my father is from Puerto Rico. Growing up, I visited my family in Mexico City every summer and spent most of my early childhood there. In 2005, I was looking for a place to finish college and set my eyes on Miami. I majored in finance and wanted to start my career in The Magic City. I worked at a family office, National Planning Corporation, for financial services post-graduation. While working, living, and enjoying Miami, I found a lack of authentic Mexican cuisine and longed for the spices of my childhood. I became determined to create a restaurant that was authentic to the Mexican street tacos I loved so much. Thus, Pilo’s Street Tacos was born.

The heart and soul of everything we do at Pilo’s came from my Aunt Pilo. Growing up, Aunt Pilo had a significant influence on me and was a source of inspiration. She was born with Down Syndrome but never let that define her. She was a master in the kitchen, a social butterfly, kind-hearted, and had a tremendous impact on everyone she knew. Unfortunately, she passed before she could see Pilo’s Street Tacos come to life. In her honor, we carry the mission of employing and empowering adults with special abilities. To date, over 20% of our workforce is adults with special abilities. Our ultimate goal is to be the biggest employer of adults with special abilities in the country.

Do you have a specific type of food that you focus on? What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

We serve incredibly high-quality, fresh, and authentic Mexican food. Our cuisine is as authentic as any taqueria you will find in Mexico. Our salsa is handmade “farm-to-table” style with organic ingredients like fresh, raw green tomatillos. I want our customers to walk away knowing they experienced a taste of Mexico without leaving Miami!

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you became a restaurateur? What was the lesson or take away you took out of that story?

Working in the restaurant business in South Florida, I can genuinely say I’ve seen it all. To be honest, I don’t think I have one specific wow or taken aback moment. To me, I’m just proud that my team and I have built an establishment that we’re proud of. When we see people cracking up, catching up with friends over a drink, letting loose, dancing, and having fun, I know we have created something people love.

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? How did you overcome this obstacle?

Like many restaurants, navigating the COVID-19 pandemic and learning to cope with the “new normal” has been challenging. Through this challenging time, I knew this isn’t going to be the end of Pilo’s, and we’ll one day go back to a “new normal”. get lost in the shuffle. It felt like we had just opened our doors and then had to shut down. It felt like I had lost all my momentum, that I was going to lose everything I had built. I sat down and did an audit on everything I thought was right, what we could improve on, tweaking every part of the operation. In a time when most people pulled back from investing, I went with my gut and invested more money into the concept. Even though that time was challenging, I wouldn’t change anything.

What was it that first drew you to cooking that type of food? Can you share a story about that with us?

Authentic street tacos are completely different than the tacos most people are used to. There’s so much passion, love, and thought that goes into creating vibrant al pastor, birria, and even vegetarian Mexican street taco recipes, that I wanted to share the ‘magic’ to the Magic City.

In your experience, what is the key to creating a dish that customers are crazy about?

I listen to my staff, customers, family, and friends. For example, we had countless customers asking us to make birria tacos. Two weeks later, we made birria tacos a staple on our menu. It’s simple, just listen. What you don’t know, you don’t know. That’s why I’m always open to having conversations with people even outside our immediate circle. I never take constructive feedback personally, I use it to improve, whether it’s myself or my concept’s menu.

Personally, what is the ‘perfect meal for you’?

Any meal I can share with my family and friends is perfect. But if I had to be specific, it would be two delicious tacos, a side of chips and fresh guacamole and pico de gallo, washed down with an ice-cold Frozarita.

Where does your inspiration for creating come from? Is there something that you turn to for a daily creativity boost?

The marketplace. Rather than competing or comparing myself to another venue, I look at what they’re doing and think about how I can elevate it. What are they doing right, what are they doing wrong, and how can I “fill in the blanks”? Also, how can I take a concept and make it scalable to bring it to other markets? I pride myself on being a trendsetter and bringing my creativity wherever I go.

Are you working on any new or exciting projects now? What impact do you think this will have?

2022 will be a tremendous year of growth for Pilo’s Street Tacos. Not only are we rapidly expanding in South Florida, but we’re looking to expand to other locations, both in the United States and in South America. We’re launching Frozaritas, an upscale frozen margarita concept in our Pilo’s Tequila Garden location. The Frozarita flavors are made with high-quality ingredients and top-shelf tequila — the perfect drink to enjoy on a hot day.

What advice would you give to other restaurateurs to thrive and avoid burnout?

The key to avoiding burnout is concentrating and cultivating a supportive culture within your organization. If your team lacks culture and motivation, you’ll never be able to grow. You have to empower your team to care about your restaurant’s success just as much as you do. It’s not just a job for them; they are interested in seeing the restaurant grow and evolve. This allows you to promote and keep the momentum going — we don’t stop, we don’t rest, but we don’t burn out.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Started as a Restaurateur” and why? Please share a story or an example for each.

The five things I wish someone would’ve told me when I first started as a restauranteur is; 1. How addictive of a feeling it is to open a new venue and expand. It’s a high and a rush when you see your idea come to life. No one prepares you for the rollercoaster of emotions that comes with opening a new venue. The uncertainty of how it will perform, the joy of seeing your hard work come to life, and everything in between.

2. How robust construction is to build your concept. It sounds elementary, but I’d wish I knew more about construction and how challenging it is to make your idea physically come to life. I have tremendous respect for our construction workers.it’s not easy! I had to learn the hard way through construction delays, problems with materials, weather delays, etc.

3. Check your ego. There’s a lot of ego in hospitality. Everyone has a personality and can be very ego-centric. Never lose sight of who you are and your “why.” Also, make sure your team around you is supportive and will hold you accountable.

4. Connections are crucial for success. Many people in the restaurant industry are incredibly well connected, as most have come from a nightlife or promoter background. I came from the finance world and didn’t grow up in the early-2000s. I had to learn how to network quickly and effectively. During this time, people made a name for themselves. That time turned out to be crucial for their success.

5. The amount of red tape that gets involved in the opening. From permits to licenses, so many things are out of your control — it becomes complicated and it’s important to always allow extra time for permits and licenses to be approved.

What’s the one dish people have to try if they visit your establishment?

Everyone needs to try our signature La Pilo Taco — made with pork al pastor with pineapple, white onions & cilantro on corn tortillas. It’s our best-selling taco for a reason!

If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

If I could inspire a movement, it would be for more companies to see beyond perceived disabilities and see the skills and talents these adults bring to the table. By employing and empowering adults with special abilities, I feel we are on our way . To date, over 20% of our workforce is adults with special abilities. Our ultimate goal is to be the biggest employer of adults with special abilities in the count

Thank you so much for these insights. This was very inspirational!

--

--

--

In-depth Interviews with Authorities in Business, Pop Culture, Wellness, Social Impact, and Tech. We use interviews to draw out stories that are both empowering and actionable.

Recommended from Medium

My Growth Story: Building HubSpot Academy

How we decided whether or not to startup — searching the soul

The small business apocalyptic survival guide — day 1

Startup fundraising essentials: Top 7 things to raise more capital faster for your Blockchain…

Changing course: We are discontinuing our app

The Accidental Entrepreneur: My Crazy Roller Coaster Ride As A Clueless First Time Founder — Part 2

Lessons I Learned From My Dad On Entrepreneurship PT. 1

FirstKonnect — Introduction

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Authority Magazine

Authority Magazine

Good stories should feel beautiful to the mind, heart, and eyes

More from Medium

Shifting Demand from Citizenship by Investment to Residency by Investment

Maximum Coziness at your Home

Money Edges and Impact

Don’t Let Fear of the Unknown Throw Shade on your Retirement