Lauro Davalos was 17 and alone when he crossed the border from Mexico. He’d graduated from the first grade only, then had to work. The United States, he’d gleefully tell people on the family farm, offered better, and he was going.
After a circuitous route through California, Idaho, and Chicago—where “the buildings were too big”—Davalos took root in Racine, Wisconsin, where he landed a job as a welder at Racine Steel Castings. He also landed a wife, and when the family grew to seven, Davalos knew he would have to add a second job to send his children to private school.
“In Mexico, he didn’t have the opportunity to go to school,” says his daughter, translating. “He wanted different for his children.”
He really is the American dream. He came here with nothing.
So Davalos saved some money and bought a little candy and soda shop in a gritty neighborhood downtown. A year later he added some groceries, then homemade 99-cent tacos, which his wife sold to neighborhood children for 25 cents apiece. Soon people across town had tasted those tacos, and by the time Racine Steel Casting closed its doors, ending Davalos’ job of eighteen and a half years, La Tapatia had become successful enough to support the family.
Today, La Tapatia is known across the state for its authentic, richly flavored tacos. While still family-run, the business has 10 employees, about half of whom are American-born. Davalos, who also invested in rental properties, lives on a 34-acre ranch with his family and has a stable of Arabian horses, which “dance” every year in the town’s Fourth of July parade.
“He really is the American dream,” Davalos’s friend, Wally Rendon, says, “He came here with nothing.”