If we call Aaron Franklin of Franklin Barbecue the king of Austin’s barbecue world, then can we all agree Reyna Vasquez of Veracruz All Natural is the queen of Austin’s taco world? Her name means queen, after all.
Veracruz All Natural has grown to four locations and an half-hour waiting line at the original trailer, and its migas taco is on Food Network’s list of the five best breakfast tacos in the country. The first trailer nearly a decade ago, which makes it easy to think the fame, devoted following, and lines have always been there.
In reality, Vasquez’ path to the top has been as challenging as it could possibly be for an undocumented immigrant with no money to spare, striving to bring the food of her native town of Veracruz, Mexico, to the saturated Austin market.
Without Snow Cones, There Would Be No Breakfast Tacos
When Reyna Vasquez opened her first trailer in 2006, the now-famous breakfast tacos were a vague and distant dream. Although she had always aspired to open a Mexican restaurant, starting a business required a large investment. So instead of tacos, Vasquez started selling snow cones, juices, and smoothies out of a tiny trailer.
It wasn’t until two years later, when Vasquez was joined by her sister Maritza, that Veracruz All Natural introduced its first food items. Still unable to invest money into equipment, Vasquez added Mexican food to the menu little by little, starting with tortas. It took another full year to completely switch to making tacos, and gain devoted customers who visited on a regular basis.
What It’s Really Like to Start a Food Business
It’s easy to describe three years of someone’s life in one paragraph. From snow cones to tortas to tacos. In reality, those three years were, perhaps, the most difficult and challenging in Vasquez’ life. Both sisters had second jobs, since the trailer didn’t generate much money. Vasquez confessed, “The little money we made, we reinvested. We were working 12 hours a day non-stop, seven days a week.”
Besides long hours, there are many other sacrifices that come along with starting your own business, such as not knowing where your next paycheck will come from, and the constant pressure of having to pay bills. “Sometimes, I had to make a decision whether to pay rent for my house or for the lot where the trailer was parked. Not a lot of people are willing to do those things,” shared Vasquez.
On top of all that, at the time Vasquez started her first trailer, she was an undocumented immigrant. Getting the necessary permits was next to impossible, but she persevered. “I was doing things that I shouldn’t have, but I thought: ‘Okay, I am here. I am a good person. I want to do something good and help my family.’ That was the only way to help my family here and in Mexico. The only thing to do to feel good about myself.”
At the beginning of her journey, Vasquez often thought that even if she couldn’t make it, she would feel good about trying to achieve something in a foreign country. When friends asked why she put herself in such a stressful and uncertain position, she always replied that she didn’t care if she had to go back to Mexico, as long as she did her best here.
“People were asking me why I was doing it: ‘Anytime they can send you back, you will lose everything!’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I will lose all the material stuff, but the satisfaction that I did something…it is enough for me to keep going.’ Now that I have my visa, nothing has changed. I feel the same way.”
If that wasn’t hard enough, the next sacrifice came in the form of losing friends. “During the first three years, I was working very hard. My friends would invite me to go out and I had to say no. [Eventually,] they stopped asking me. I felt like I didn’t have friends any more. It was just my sister and me. And our mother. My mom used to give me money to keep going when I didn’t have any. I had to do what I had to do.”
Fall Seven Times, Get Up Eight
Very few people would be willing to go through so much trouble to pursue a dream, without any prospect of immediate return on the investment of time and money. Even fewer would be able to remain under such pressure for three years, all the while believing success would arrive one day.
When asked what motivated her to continue the hard work no matter what, Vasquez replied she is stubborn by nature:
“I believed in what I was doing and I knew someday I was going to be successful. Even though I didn’t have money, I was happy. Seeing my customers, talking to them, building the relationship…it was nice. For me, it was enough to keep going.”
And keep going, they did. In 2010, the sisters bought a new trailer to replace the first tiny one on East Cesar Chavez Street. In 2014, they opened a trailer at Radio Coffee and Beer, followed by the first brick and mortar location in Round Rock in 2016. In October 2017, Veracruz All Natural finally opened a brick and mortar restaurant in Austin.
Newest Location Offers Traditional Mexican Cuisine
The latest addition to the Veracruz family, the restaurant in north Austin, is quite different from the other locations. Not only does it serve the beloved tacos, but also a full menu of traditional Mexican dishes like chilaquiles, enchiladas, and picadas.
“This is my goal, this is where I wanted to be. I always wanted to open a restaurant in Austin with not just tacos, but [food] like I ate growing up,” Vasquez shared excitedly. “We have picada, which is an open-faced taco. If you go to Veracruz, you’ll see it everywhere. Chicken mole enchilada is very authentic. We also have the chilaquiles, and we make a special taco every day.”
Vasquez, who moved to Austin from Veracruz with her family at the age of 16, shared that cooking has always been a big part of her life. Her mother used to have a restaurant in Veracruz, where she and her sister helped out on weekends. That’s where Vasquez learned to cook.
After moving to Texas, Vasquez found a job in a Mexican restaurant on East Cesar Chavez Street where she worked for eight years, all the while dreaming of becoming her own boss and creating original recipes. At her north Austin location, that dream has finally come true. This is why Vasquez is not planning to expand her business by opening any more restaurants in the future. She has arrived.
Giving Back to the Community
Right now, Vasquez’ focus is on helping people and giving back to the community that has supported her for the past 10 years. She says being an excellent chef isn’t enough to become successful in the current market. She has seen too many of her friends, local chefs, go out of business because they didn’t have enough support from the community.
She told me about a friend from the Dominican Republic who had to close his food truck recently. “He is so passionate. Seeing him cook and enjoying what he was doing reminded me of myself. And it was sad when he had to close.”
That’s why Vasquez invited local coffee trailer, Machine Head Coffee, to join her when she opened her newest restaurant. Now you can enjoy Mexican food followed by a cup of good coffee.
Next year, Veracruz All Natural celebrates its 10-year anniversary. Reyna and Maritza Vasquez are planning to throw a party to show appreciation for their customers. Many have been with Veracruz All Natural since the Vasquez sisters were making snow cones.
Here’s to the hardworking people who go through the hardships of starting a business, in order to feed us Austinites delicious hand-made tacos, and to many more years of making the rest of the country jealous of Austin’s delicious food.
3 Quick Questions
Must try dishes at the new location? Cochinita pibil: pork marinated in orange juice and achiote, served with rice and beans; chilaquiles.
Favorite ingredient? Garlic and chili.
Favorite Foodie Destination? Thailand.
@theAustinot wants to know:
What’s your favorite taqueria in Austin?