Correction: The address of Taqueria 3 Carnales is 702 S. Elm St. An earlier version of this story misstated the address.
For Jose and Lorenza Santos of Denton, the expansion of their restaurant, Taqueria 3 Carnales, means accomplishing the American Dream.
The Santoses, who immigrated to the United States — in hope of a better life — more than three decades ago, are looking to shake up the Denton food scene with generational meals from the heart of Tierra Caliente, Mexico.
While the taqueria, located at 702 S. Elm St., specializes in traditional and comfort-style dishes, its appeal lies in the emphasis on family and culture.
Lorenza, who is the lead chef, said there were difficult moments, because of having to leave her family behind, but that the journey has been worthwhile.
“Coming over here is such a struggle, but you can give your loved ones a better life and not just for your children, but you can also take care of your grandparents and the generations to come, knowing you made a difference,” Lorenza said via her son, Jesse Santos and Monica Gonzales, his girlfriend, who translated. “You don’t forget your ties, we try to stay close to our roots as we can, because in the Hispanic and Mexican culture, family and love is everything, and we want to show that.”
An inspiration behind their restaurant, including the original Taqueria Mercedez Lewisville location, which opened about three years ago, Jesse said, is his grandmother Mercedez Calderon, who the restaurants take after. He said his grandmother had always believed in the possibility and was steadfast in her view that hard work, eventually, would pay off.
Jesse, who works as a general contractor, said customers have relished the opportunity to try homemade-inspired meals.
“There was a gentleman here, who told me that his food tasted ‘just like how his mom used to make,’ when he was a little kid and that the restaurant is different from most,” Jesse said. “A lot of restaurants want to put the tortilla in grease, and we just give it a slight touch to make it crispy, but we are trying to add more traditional Tex-Mex menu items, to grow business.”
As Denton businesses hedge their bets and set up shop under lingering uncertainties of the pandemic, some small business owners are retreating and significantly scaling back operations, hoping to return another day.
At Freaks and Geeks LLC, the vintage card and game shop announced their physical storefront, located at 1807 N. Elm St., is closing following financial setbacks related to the coronavirus pandemic. While the business will exist solely online via eBay and Mercari, a third-party selling app, the closure has offered an opportunity for management to reassess next steps.
“We decided to close our physical location, effective July 1, based on fact that sales have not picked up enough for us to stay open comfortably,” co-owner Alec Featherstone said. “We see coronavirus as an obstacle, [not] something to conquer, and with that in mind, retreating to a smaller format to come back stronger is the best option.”
Featherstone, whose livelihood has been hemorrhaged by the pandemic, said a notable loss is the social component of community interaction. With restrictions and limitations, he said many would end up feeling left out.
“A lot of people, of this generation, do not have the same experiences through the YMCA or boys’ and girls’ clubs. Their social interaction is through card or video games, and even prior to shuttering the physical location, we haven’t had those interactions, because of social distancing,” he said. “With the doors closing, there is going to be a group of people who feel like they don’t have a place, and we’re hoping to remedy that, but the biggest component of that is sales.”
In the meantime, Featherstone said his business is negotiating next steps to continue selling their merchandise through area businesses, such as the Downtown Mini Mall, located at 118 N. Locust St. Although the location will remain static, he said the short-and-sweet road map to recovery depends on the next six to eight months and whether coronavirus worsens.
Featherstone said opening his storefront had been the American Dream — something he wanted ever since he was a little kid. With most belongings and merchandise packed and ready for storage, he said he is stirring for the next chapter.
“Moving forward, I get to re-imagine everything, and that’s the exciting part, and that’s what I get excited about,” he said encouragingly. “I got to see that I can successfully close the storefront, clear our debt and do all these things that I had on my business plan, so now I get to try new things and get excited all over again, so for me, it’s like starting a new game.”
For the Santoses, the opening of their new restaurant is not without its share of challenges, as construction and the ongoing pandemic threaten to dampen any meaningful sales. However, as the restaurant works to obtain its liquor license and final aesthetic touches are finished, such as culturally significant murals, Jesse said the goal is for the changes to result in more customers.
“There is [uncertainty], but we understand what everyone is going through, and with the pandemic there is a little bit of worry of whether the public is going to accept you,” he said. “We just want people to give us a chance.”