By DANNY YOEONO
MARTINEZ, Calif. – Midday last Sunday, Edwin Cerda held a business meeting outside his restaurant facing Pacheco Boulevard.
Cars were steadily pulling up into the parking lot and various people were entering, then exiting the restaurant with bags filled with burritos, tacos or pan dulce, a Mexican candy bread.
Around the table sat Cerda, his uncle, his step-father and a restaurant vendor.
Cerda sat back and listened to a sales pitch for tablet computer cash registers, and asked questions to the vendor that reflected his understanding of restaurant operations and his bottom line.
At the end of the meeting he made the decision – the restaurant would receive new registers.
Cerda is a 19-year-old who with his mother, Veronica Martinez, held the grand opening of their business, Taqueria Y Carniceria, over Labor Day weekend.
Martinez is in charge of day to day restaurant operations, leaving Cerda in charge of the finances and how the business should run overall.
Cerda and Martinez got into the combination restaurant-butcher shop-general store business when they found the owner of De La Torre Meat Market, the business that had been in the same location, needed help.
The previous owner had problems with employees, customer service, food quality and finances – everything one should know when running an operation like a meat market.
Cerda and his family got the rights to the place and within a week opened to the public with a grand opening that included cars filling the parking lot, live music and horses.
To mop up the operation the previous owner had left, a new staff was hired, the entire place scrupulously cleaned and painted, new food sources were picked and a revised menu was put into place. These reflected decisions were mostly made by Cerda.
The menu emulates Martinez’s at-home cooking.
“Everybody knows my mom for her great cooking,” said Cerda.
Martinez is from Michoacán, Mexico, and used to work as a chef at another restaurant. But for their new venture Cerda told her, “Just make the food like you do at home. … I need our food to taste different than the other Mexican food spots around here.”
Entrepreneurship is at the heart of Cerda.
“I would rather be running around, then standing in line, trying to get a fictitious business name and generally setting up a business than working a corporate job nine to five,” he said.
Higher quality meat and produce were brought in and despite higher costs of production than the previous restaurant that was there, Cerda lowered the prices across the menu.
And it has, so far, paid off.
His end-of-day cash in the register has quadrupled that of the previous restaurant.
The first in his family to graduate high school, Cerda went on to also become the first in his family to go to college, attending California State University-San Francisco as a business major.
“I’m trying to do it for my mom,” Cerda said.
He lived in the city for his first year there but opted to commute from home this year to have the ability to monitor the restaurant.
In high school, his peers saw him as a stoner. But recently, Cerda declined a party invitation to instead clean the restaurant for hours on end. Running a business has forced him to grow up quickly.
“It’s like the tv show Phineas and Ferb,” said Cerda. “ People ask, ‘Aren’t you a little young to be doing this?’” The high school Cerda might have thought so. However, after his first year of college, Cerda said he had to get on his own case. “No one is going to hand it to you.”
On the weekends, big pots of menudo birria, a soup, are prepared. People call before the place opens asking if they will have it. It’s Cerda’s favorite dish and he has to be vigilant in order to get a bowl for himself. They sell out before noon.
The business is crafted to be a Mexican restaurant where people who are not Mexican can feel they can still enter and get authentic Veronica Martinez food. That is a goal of Cerda’s.
Taqueria Y Carniceria is located at 3830 Pacheco Boulevard in Martinez. It is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sunday 8 a.m. to 7 p.m.