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Meet Jesse Gomez of Cocinas Y Calaveras (Mercado + Yxta Cocina Mexicana)

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jesse Gomez.

So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I grew up in a restaurant family. My grandparents Irene and Gustavo Montes opened their restaurant “El Arco Iris” in Highland Park in the mid-’60s. Their children all worked in that restaurant growing up and for most of my childhood, it was my second home. My mom worked there her whole life except for a brief stint working at a bank. She eventually bought my grandparents out and came to own it herself. My path led me to law school but I was only there one short semester as the business called out to me. I worked for a few restaurant companies ultimately landing back home running my families’ restaurant. It was after taking over the reins and remodeling it that I knew this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. This opportunity led me to open my first restaurant in Downtown LA, Yxta Cocina Mexicana…..

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
I don’t think anyone who owns restaurants ever encounters a smooth road in their career. My biggest obstacle at the beginning of this journey was my naivete. I opened an upscale restaurant at the edge of skid row during a recession. It was bound to fail. Bad location, bad timing, and maybe the wrong concept for the area were three factors that played a big part in our initial struggles. That first year of business was one of the hardest years of my life but I refused to let numbers or negativity get me down. It took a lot of hard work but that store eventually turned a corner and has now been around for almost 12 years. Yxta is my baby and I’m very proud of how far we’ve come. Other struggles have included the growing pains of opening multiple restaurants along the way. A common challenge expansion brings is maintaining the consistency and quality of the product.

My business partner, Chef Jose Acevedo has been my biggest champion in this arena as he has worked diligently for so many years to make sure our food is at a high level across the board. The reality of owning restaurants is that it’s a daily struggle. Restaurants require many moving parts and unfortunately, they break down on a daily basis. As time passes, you get better and better at solving these daily problems but it does not mean that they go away. We have also had the misfortune of closing restaurants that have not worked for one reason or another. To close something that requires so much effort and struggle to open is disheartening but a part of the business that exists, unfortunately.

We’d love to hear more about your business.
We currently own and operate six upscale Mexican restaurants throughout LA county and beyond. Our Mercado concept can be found in Santa Monica, Los Angeles, Hollywood, Pasadena, and Manhattan Beach, Yxta Cocina Mexicana is located in Downtown Los Angeles. We take pride in offering a traditional yet contemporary experience that has paved the way for elevated Mexican cuisine that is accessible to everyone. My personal goal for our restaurants has always been to provide our guests with amazing Mexican food and cocktails in a relaxed and comfortable setting full of Mexican art and smart design. I would say that some of our signature items include our margaritas, guacamole, carnitas, and flan. We like to think that these particular items are the best of what’s out there. Most of the positive feedback we get on these items is in line with that notion.

I am most proud of the fact that our team adheres to our mission statement on a daily basis. It is simple yet profound-“We work collectively as a team to create the best Mexican food with the highest service standards.” We have all worked very hard to make our restaurants successful. It makes me proud when I hear someone I don’t know that Mercado or Yxta is one of their favorite restaurants in Los Angeles. One of my career highlights was when our first Mercado in Santa Monica was named one of 2012’s top ten new restaurants in LA magazine by famed food critic Patric Kuh. That was a true milestone for my partner and me. I believe Mercado set a tone and a standard for the new wave of modern Mexican restaurants that have emerged everywhere.

I think what sets us apart from other restaurants is the personal touch my partner and I have on these stores on a daily basis. We both physically work in our restaurants and pour our hearts into everything. In that sense, I think it sets up apart from other restaurants in the difficult maintenance of care and quality amongst the stores.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I think I would have stuck to strictly opening Mercados and not venturing into other concepts. The Mercado concept has always succeeded from the outset in whatever location we have opened. We have tried a Mexican seafood concept twice and a more casual taco/tequila concept. While we learned quite a bit operating these stores, they never had the same “magic” as the Mercado restaurants.

Contact Info:

  • Address: 7910 W. Third Street, Los Angeles, CA 90048
  • Website: www.cocinasycalaveras.com
  • Phone: 323-944-0947
  • Email: info@cocinasycalaveras.com
  • Instagram: @jesseangelgomez @cocinasycalaveras


Image Credit:

@vanessaviolaphotos, @somosdec

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