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For the love of family (and food): Tacos and Tequilas owner Diego Velasquez

When you walk inside the newest location of Tacos and Tequilas Mexican Grill, with its bright green and yellow sign plastered across the street from the new Ponce City Market in Atlanta’s Midtown, you pass a painting of two girls.

The hand-painted work from Mexico may look like any other piece. It’s hard to notice every restaurant decoration. However, the two girls are not anonymous. In fact, they may be eating the restaurant’s food tonight.

Victoria, 15, and Miranda, 7, are the reasons the family-owned Mexican eatery came to be. Cumming residents Diego and Beatriz Velasquez opened the first location five years ago on Roswell Road in Buckhead.

“The idea was to show an example to my daughters that if you set a goal, you can achieve it if you work hard,” Diego Velasquez said. “Whatever you set your mind to, you can do.”

The Colombia-born entrepreneur has always been surrounded by a big family — and a lot of food. So it makes sense he now runs a chain of three restaurants with booming business.

“I have six sisters and three brothers, and they’re all into business and are entrepreneurial,” he said.

“It’s in their blood,” added Beatriz Velasquez, who came from a smaller family of four siblings.

She has one brother in Georgia, but when she moved here from Venezuela about 20 years ago, she came alone.

The two have been married for 17 years and have lived in Cumming for 13.

Diego Velasquez said he credits his business spirit to his grandmother, who was “always at the bank to do something or start something.”

He has lived in the United States for about 20 years, with that time being spent exclusively in Georgia save for when he attended Rutgers University in New Jersey.

“I believed in myself”

Owning several restaurants — Buckhead, Midtown and Cumming — was not always on the map. His plan after Rutgers, where he majored in biology, was to go to medical school.

After working with his older brother at their family-owned, 16-location chain, La Parrilla Mexican Restaurant, for 16 years, he took the leap to open his own establishment.

It took two years before that jump happened, and ideas came and passed in the meantime. He wanted to open a tourism company for a while. Or sell a grill on TV.

He was supposed to open the restaurant with a brother, he said, but he backed out.

The pressure to support his family as the only income may have stopped many people. Not Diego. Now he manages about 150 employees across all three locations with no partners.

“Then, I was on my own. But I believed in myself and I kept it going,” he said. “No matter if you want to have an entrepreneurial career, a business, anything, you can get whatever you want as long as you give it a good effort.”

“We take care of each other”

If Diego Velasquez has learned one thing in running a business and from his wife and daughters, it is that family can mean more than one thing.

“How we treat our employees is very important,” he said. “It’s like we are all one big family. We take care of each other. We have many people who have been here since we opened.”

Beatriz Velasquez said her husband knows how to handle any type of situation. He has to, she said. He’s managing it without any partners.

“I always try to be positive no matter what,” Diego Velasquez said.

Family can also mean those who they may not know directly but who are just as important — the community.

The restaurant holds fundraisers and donates to local schools and teachers, he said. It recently held a fundraiser for the Forsyth County Sheriff’s Office’s Teen Interception Program and has collected for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

“We like to give back,” he said. “They’re coming in here, so we want to give back some. We feel better after doing it, and they like it.”

Mentality and good intentions can only go so far in running a successful restaurant, especially in a metropolitan city where there is no short menu of choices. The last ingredient that keeps the doors open is, of course, the food. It’s got to be good.

The unique and authentic [massive] menu is a prized commodity with the owners.

“You don’t want it to taste like a corporate taste,” Diego Velasquez said. “You want an authentic, homemade taste, which it is here. Everything is fresh. Everything is made every day from scratch.”