Mexican businessman revolutionizes sushi by adding the style of Culiacán

By May 12, 2022Uncategorized

A setback does not prevent a Latino from achieving the American Dream

In March 2001, Francisco Mendoza was sentenced to nine years in prison for drug trafficking. At 26, the native of East Los Angeles never imagined that after getting out of prison —with much effort and desire— he would forge a successful future.

Now, at 44, he is the owner of four El Sushi Loco restaurants, which fuses Mexican and Asian food.

Sitting at a table in one of the establishments, located in Downey, Francisco said that in prison he learned the trades of plumbing and electricity.

He added that he was sentenced to 11 years in prison but his good behavior led him to purge only 9 of them in the Lompoc, California jail. After being released in March 2009, he returned to East Angeleno and began working fixing air conditioners.

A year later, one of his cousins ​​—José Calderón— emigrated from his native Culiacán Sinaloa, where Francisco’s father is from.

“So I asked him, ‘And what do you know how to do?’ He told me: ‘I make sushi’… I was like, ‘Sushi? The rice balls?’ I had never tried them”, he acknowledged.

Once José made him one of his best recipes, Francisco was shocked and without much thought he set his entrepreneurial mind in motion.

“I told him: ‘This is really good… Mijo, what if he bought a lunch box and we’re going to sell it to the street, are we going to work or what?’

José accepted and Francisco decided to invest the only $2,800 he had saved to find a lunch box of tacos. But due to the high prices, he only had enough to buy a cart that cost him $1,200 in Tijuana, Mexico.

With everything ready, the cousins ​​went out to sell the famous Mexican flavored Culiacán sushi.

The challenges

Francisco remembers that from that first Friday that they arrived at a corner with their little cart, the curious came to try the “rolls” made of roast beef and chicken.

During the week, he fixed air conditioners and for two consecutive weekends they put the business on the same corner, near his house, where “customers came in droves.”

Until one night the police arrived and due to the lack of permits from the City, they were forced to close.

“So, I went to a tire shop and also filled the place. Another two weeks until my friend’s dad said that the Chinese guy next door was getting mad because there was no room in the parking lot. He told me: ‘You have to go,’” Francisco recalled.

Discouraged that he didn’t have the money to open a store, he almost gave up. He tried to give away the food that was already made but the customers refused and they all wanted to pay him.

And so it was that he decided to settle down again on Fridays and Sundays; this time in the patio of his mother’s house.

“We got up after 5 in the afternoon because there were no longer any City inspectors there… I started without chairs, people standing eating,” he recalled. “The day we got some money, I bought a chair and a table; Then it grew to 24 chairs and 6 tables.”

Stroke of luck

Mexican sushi was so popular that customers searched house to house for the cart until they found it.

He remembers that one Thursday, while he was working at his regular job, the representative of the Mexican singer Gerardo Ortiz called him asking if “the cart” would be selling sushi that afternoon.

Francisco told them no and to come back on Friday, but determined to eat Mexican sushi that day, Ortiz’s team told him to settle in and promised “it’s going to be fine.”

It was so, that same day, Gerardo Ortiz and his brother Kevin Ortiz, came to revolutionize the neighborhood.

“Suddenly my house was full. They announced it on Instagram, Facebook… I didn’t know about social media. I had just been released from prison, what was I to know, ”acknowledged the now chef whose business is promoted on all platforms.

That unexpected visit made it possible for other Mexican celebrities —such as Chiquis Rivera, Noel Torres, the Banda el Recodo, among others— to come to eat at the cart on Fridays and Sundays.

Seeing that the business was advancing, Francisco gave full responsibility for the finances to his cousin José. “I told him: ‘You’re going to eat from here and if you finish them or don’t manage them well, the American Dream ends,’” he told her.

“My whole family helped me. My mother cut the onion, made the horchata… My girlfriend came to help on weekends too”.

After eight months of having the business in the yard, he decided to rent his first premises in the city of La Puente. The inauguration was on November 15, 2011.

Today, eight years later, he can proudly say that Sushi Loco employs 128 people in La Puente, Pomona and two locations in Downey.

Prison, a gift for good

Francisco recognizes that being behind bars was able to reflect and think about what he was looking for in life.

“Being in prison I felt like dying when I first entered but I accepted that I am responsible for my actions. I blamed my situation, that my father is a drunk, that we are poor, I always felt like a victim until one day my brother who was in the army told me, ‘Stop making so many excuses and become a man,'” he recalled.

“He told me, ‘In the Army the best excuse is that you have no excuse. You are not a victim. That’s where I realized I had to drop the excuses,” she asserted.

It was in prison that he also met for the first time who is now his wife, Griselda Mendoza. Francisco and Griselda initially communicated by letters. Years later she visited him in prison.

Shortly after they stopped talking and when Francisco was released she looked for him again. That is when Griselda gave him emotional and financial support so that he could advance in her business.

They have now been married for seven years and have two children.

Her passion for cooking has involved her with her social work where she is dedicated to supporting various charitable causes.

Francisco said that one of the greatest joys he has experienced in recent years was when one of his bosses from prison—where he worked as an inmate plumber earning 12 cents an hour—came to his restaurant to eat with his whole family.

“He was one of those who believed in me and was very pleased to see me. One of his grandchildren asked me, ‘What do I order?’ and I told him, ‘Get the chicken teriyaki’ because I remember that whenever they [the bosses] had their meetings they made chicken and he always offered me a piece of chicken,” Francisco recalled. “That was very symbolic for me because a piece of chicken also gives you opportunities.”

Francisco recognizes that contrary to what many people say, he would not want to go back to his youth, since he now feels much better and treasures what he has learned.

“Because prison can take away your freedoms, but they can never steal your dignity or integrity. Much less the sense of humor”, Francisco emphasized with his characteristic smile.

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