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Life and Work with Ivan Vasquez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ivan Vasquez.

Ivan, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born in Oaxaca, Mexico, and at 15 years old, I crossed the border and settled in Los Angeles. I started working in the restaurant industry in 1996 as a dishwasher at Baja Fresh while I was in high school. For the next 15 years, I worked my way up within the company, opening several Baja Fresh locations, and ultimately reaching the highest internal position as regional manager for Los Angeles County.

After learning all aspects of owning and operating a restaurant, I felt prepared to own my own restaurant. In 2012, I bought El Nopal in Palms, bringing my knowledge of Oaxacan cuisine and mezcal to the 30-year old neighborhood institution. After five years of success with El Nopal, I began to notice the lack of traditional Oaxacan cuisine in the South Bay and opened Madre in Torrance in late-2017. I am extremely passionate about educating my guests on Oaxacan culture, as well as Madre’s extensive mezcal offerings. I go back to Oaxaca a couple times each year and meet with notable mezcaleros to bring as much knowledge as I can to my guests in Los Angeles.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
They are many different challenges – cash flow is one! If you don’t have experience in operations in the restaurant industry, it is hard to be successful in opening a restaurant. You have to understand all aspects of the business. The restaurant industry doesn’t always offer immediate results – it’s a long term commitment. You have to have discipline and courage to get through the hard times. Creating a strong team that surrounds you is so important to your success! Always work with respect and integrity, and be sure it’s something that you’re passionate about!

Please tell us about Madre Restaurants.
Madre (Torrance & Palms) is the leader in authentic Oaxacan cuisine with recipes that have been passed down through generations in my family. Our menu features classic Oaxacan cuisine including mole, tlayudas, tamales, pozole, and more. We are so proud of our extensive beverage program, boasting hundreds of different mezcals and tequilas to enjoy on their own or in specialty cocktails. As mezcal is continuing to grow in popularity, we’re thrilled to be a part of educating our guests on the spirit and love spotlighting our favorite brands of mezcal. Oaxaca is my home and I am so proud to be an immigrant who has accomplished the American Dream. Madre is growing so fast and I can’t wait to share our brand with all of Los Angeles!

There’s a wealth of academic research that suggests that lack of mentors and networking opportunities for women has materially affected the number of women in leadership roles. Smart organizations and industry leaders are working to change this, but in the meantime, do you have any advice for finding a mentor and building a network?
My mentors have been a huge part of how I’ve learned about the restaurant industry! You can take traits from your mentors to implement into your business, from operations to finance and brand concepts. I learned to never be too tough on my employees, but not too easygoing either – my approach is somewhere right down the middle. My advice on finding a mentor is to be determined to learn and get involved in the industry you’re passionate about – time and hard work pay off, and you’ll meet and learn from the best people!

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Image Credit:
Carla Choy Photography & White Oak Communications

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