By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
SLIDELL — To the casual observer driving by on Highway 190, Mi Patio is just the newest Slidell restaurant open for business, serving Mexican food in the shopping center at 2170 Gause Blvd. W., near the North Shore Square mall.
But Mi Patio has much more of a story that is truly an example of the American dream, and respect being shown from the younger generation to those who have lived long enough to gain the wisdom of life.
Mi Patio in Slidell opened in October, 2011 and is the third restaurant that was started by Juan Quiroz of Hammond.
In 2006, Quiroz was a young man still newly married to Esmerelda, his bride who worked with him in a Mexican restaurant in Hammond. Quiroz had become a master chef in the restaurant business while his wife had gained experience in different departments, leading the couple to consider starting their own Mexican restaurant and take a shot at the American dream of business ownership.
The problem for Quiroz was that he lacked the financial and business experience to ensure his restaurant would be a success.
Enter Luis Gomez, a recently retired chemical plant manager who had spent over 40 years in administration and management, taking young employees and teaching them how to become the best they could be. Gomez just happened to be the uncle to Esmerelda Quiroz.
“One day Juan and Esmerelda came to me and asked if I could advise them in opening their own restaurant,” Gomez said. “They are both very talented and hard workers, but Juan knew he did not have the financial and business experience to do it on his own.”
Gomez had retired in 2004 at the age of 65, after working 44 years for the Waterbury Company. He and his wife planned to “do the things you do when you retire—travel and relax,” Gomez said. “But it took about 18 months to do those things and I was happy to have another opportunity in front of me.”
For Gomez, the proposal to become an advisor to the younger entrepreneurs had nothing to do with making money.
“I prepared for retirement through my company so I didn’t need to make the money,” Gomez said. “All of my life I have trained young people to succeed and become their best. I saw this as a chance to help these young people and give them an opportunity to help their families.”
Gomez began to study population patterns after Hurricane Katrina and recognized how many people had come to the North Shore, all the way from St. Tammany to Tangipahoa.
“I looked around Hammond and Ponchatoula, and saw there was no Mexican restaurant in Ponchatoula, so we began looking for a good location and found a great spot on Highway 22, the main road coming into town,” he explained.
With family members pitching in to help, a major renovation turned the old building into the first Mi Patio, seating 200 people. The restaurant was an overwhelming success from the start.
“The important aspects to being successful in this business are to have great recipes, which Juan already had, and then to have consistent food all the time,” Gomez said. “We have those things because Juan is the chef. Then any business needs to be selective to hire very good employees, and that has been a high priority to us. That ensures great service.”
After its opening date in May, 2007 in Ponchatoula, the restaurant continued doing extremely well with Quiroz providing jobs for family members. Then in 2009, Quiroz was approached by the owner of a vacant restaurant building in Gretna, who offered him a second opportunity.
“We looked at the location and realized it was fantastic,” Gomez said. “So more family members got to work, and I had more people to train. I’ve spent my life helping develop young people in their professions, and this is my chance to continue helping others, so even though I am supposed to be retired, I am enjoying this.”
The Gretna restaurant was named El Mesquite and became the second successful operation for the Quiroz family, not only providing more jobs, but allowing other family members to learn managerial skills with Gomez heading the entire operation as the general manager for all the restaurants.
In 2011, Quiroz wanted to provide an opportunity for his brother, Felix, to be involved in the management of a restaurant and came to Gomez again for advice.
“Juan wanted to open in Slidell and had a co-owner in Jose Plasencia as a partner in this third restaurant,” he said. “This has also given Edgar Plasencia the opportunity to become the manager here.”
The third establishment has provided a Mexican restaurant near the North Shore Square mall, also named Mi Patio, and is having success in building its reputation, after an opening last October.
“We maintain the same formula since we don’t want to change the success we’ve had,” Gomez said. “As for me, I’m 73 now, but enjoy working and doing this. Even though my friends joke with me and say ‘you should be retired,’ my goal is to get people trained, and give them opportunities for a better future. I’m glad I can have a part in this.”
Gomez said Mi Patio plans a huge celebration on Thursday, May 5, for Cinco de Mayo day.