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Immigrant Restauranteur Creates 250 American Jobs, Says Each One ‘Makes Me So Happy’

After the launch of his first restaurant — Frida Mexican Cuisine, in Beverly Hills, California — Vicente del Rio went on to open nine more Frida restaurants. Del Rio’s expansion efforts are ongoing, with another two restaurants slated to open this year. Today, his Frimex Hospitality Group currently employs more than 250 people, with over $20 million in sales annually. “Each time we open a restaurant, we offer jobs for 50 or more people,” Del Rio says. “It makes me so happy.”

Each time we open a restaurant, we offer jobs for 50 or more people. It makes me so happy.

That happiness translates into robust community involvement. Del Rio’s restaurants participate in charity events like Tacolandia in Los Angeles, with proceeds going to the local El Pueblo Park Association, an organization dedicated to preserving the historic cultures of the city. He’s also a member of the Asociación de Empresarios Mexicanos (Association of Mexican Businessmen). In 2010, he co-founded the Taste of Mexico Association, a group that promotes Mexican culture and cuisine. At his own restaurants, Del Rio says using great ingredients is key. “There is a bad conception about Mexican food about how it has to be cheap and greasy and unhealthy,” he says. “We cook from scratch in all of our kitchens, and we try to use the freshest and most organic produce that we can find.”

Nostalgia for the authentic flavors of his homeland drove Del Rio to open the first Frida restaurant. “When you move from your country to another country, you will have that feeling of missing your life,” he says. He thought others would feel the same; Los Angeles has the highest Mexican-born population outside of Mexico. Still, a Mexican restaurant in L.A. was hardly without precedent, and to succeed Del Rio would need business acumen, something he’d been honing since he was a student. He had opened his first taquería while studying accounting and international tax systems full time at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana.

Opening an upscale restaurant in Beverly Hills, however, would take capital. Because the restaurant business can be a gamble, many creditors see the industry as risky. Yet he forged ahead, sinking his own savings into the idea and getting help from friends recruited to be business partners. “It was complicated because it’s very different than doing business in Mexico,” he says.  Once the first location was up and running, Del Rio began to expand. In 2006, he opened Frida Tacos, a more casual spot. By 2017, he’ll own close to a dozen successful restaurants.

Del Rio is still not a citizen, despite having invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in the U.S. economy. He doesn’t mind, and says he hopes to someday obtain citizenship. He remains in the country on an investor visa, which must be regularly renewed. To him, that’s just the cost of doing business in the United States. Still, he notes that others haven’t been so lucky. “There are a lot of people that I know that have been more than twenty years waiting for immigration reform,” Del Rio explains. “This is a country of immigrants, creating the power to grow the economy. We know the economy of California now is the sixth largest economy in the world, which helps the United States. It is a moral thing, to help people from different countries that are expecting reform to help them legalize their rights. You don’t want to give benefits to people who are doing bad things. But to those that have been doing good, the hardworking people, I think they deserve a chance to become regular citizens or to have working permits so they can go back and forth from their original countries.”

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