It may have been too late for Santa Claus, but Hector Rodriquez believes it’s never too late for a guardian angel.
Since he opened Meño’s Place Taco Shop in a small strip mall at 1720 W. Southern Avenue, Mesa, Rodriquez admits it’s been a struggle, situated in a long row of restaurants of all kinds.
But on Jan. 9, a guardian angel appeared.
Actually, it was three angels – executives from nearby Santander Consumer USA, a car finance and loan company.
They wanted to know if Rodriquez could deliver breakfast the next morning – 832 burritos.
“I was so surprised,” said Rodriguez, who had worked for Del Taco for five years managing nine of its eateries until he decided to go off on his own to give his 72-year-old father a place to work part-time during his retirement.
With the help of friends who had no expectation of being paid, Rodriquez was up at 4 a.m. Jan. 10, making fresh burritos as they requested – 500 steak, 150 chicken and 182 veggie.
By 8 a.m., they were trucking boxes of burritos and Rodriquez’s homemade salsa and sauces to the call center.
“I am so grateful,” said Rodriguez, who is so proud of the Mexican fare that he and his helpers make, he challenges his competition by asking on his website, menosplace.business.site, “Those who don’t eat what they sell! Why do the serve it?”
Rodriguez said business is a lot rougher than he imagined when he bought the old Uncle Monkey’s Bar & Grill.
He originally looked for something a little smaller than the space he occupies.
“I was going to go small, just so my dad could have something to do,” he explained.
But when he learned a bar was selling its space, he jumped at it. He liked the fact it was big enough for comfortable seating and it had a good-sized kitchen where he could turn out his recipes for tacos, burritos and other Mexican dishes.
He figured he’d have to put about $30,000 into it, but then discovered, “The place was so dirty and we had to do a lot more work than I expected.”
He’s now spent close to $100,000 bringing it up to his standards.
Business hasn’t followed even though he is across the street from Mesa Community College.
“I’ve put leaflets on windshields in their parking lot and offer specials, but I don’t know why students aren’t coming in,” he said.
It could be the sheer number of dining choices along stretching along that part of Southern Avenue – or maybe not enough people noticed the glowing reviews his food is getting.
“His place is an amazing hidden gem,” one diner wrote. “I can’t believe the prices and how good the food is.... Every tortilla is made fresh to order. By hand. This is as close to homemade Mexican cooking as I had ever had next to my buddy’s 2 Argentine grandmas who made everything from scratch. This totally reminds me of them and I haven’t thought of them in years.”
Santander did more than read reviews.
One regular from the company learned of Rodriquez’s plight and came in one day with a human resources chief and another executive.
The trio had lunch – and liked what they tasted. And so, they made Rodriquez a proposition for the mass breakfast order. Santander did not return a request for comment.
Though Meño’s doesn’t open until 10 a.m., Rodriquez went into action, stocking his kitchen with eggs and steak and other ingredients he’d need for his early morning delivery.
“Everything went perfect and they were happy,” he said.
And so was Rodriguez.