Six years ago, Christian Pineda was a struggling architect with a nebulous career path. Luckily for him, inspiration struck, and he set out to conquer New York City through his knowledge of Mexico’s biggest gift to Earth: tacos. Today, he is the founder of one of the most well-known authentic taco joints in NY, “Los Tacos No.1.", and is learning how to steer his life in the direction he wants on the daily.
If you’re you ready to build your very own taco empire, let Pineda fill you in with some good tips.
Changing your mind is OK — you’re in charge of your destiny
Pineda is an architect by trade, but he allowed his mind to chase what his heart (err...belly?) wanted and not what his degree dictated. “Architecture wasn’t paying the bills. [My partner and I] got to New York City six years ago, and we were like, ‘There are no good tacos,’ so we just gave it a shot. People didn’t know what a true, authentic taco was.” His plan was all about mimicking the simplicity of the tacos in his natal Tijuana, where tacos are, well, the bomb.
Don’t talk the talk, but be sure to walk the walk
Pineda is a firm believer in the law of attraction. Thinking about getting something done is a good start, but, according to him, “You have to plan your goals and execute — and don’t talk about it. If you see it, it will happen.” So, in a nutshell, visualizing and taking action are key.
Figure out what your dream taco looks like
One would think most tacos are perfect, but no — there are some that are even more perfect than others. According to our taco-maker extraordinaire, it’s all about simplicity. “A good yellow corn tortilla, a good skirt steak, adobada al pastor, and then your four key ingredients: onion, cilantro, salsa de guacamole — that’s it. A simple, clean taco.”
OK, actually…it’s all about the tortilla
One of Pineda’s earliest “taco memories” involves waking up in the middle of the night and heating up a tortilla, putting a little avocado in it, a little salt, and a little salsa and feeling like he was in heaven. SOO…“WHERE’S THE BEEF?!” you may ask. According to him, “I was brought up believing that a good taco is composed of a good tortilla and a good salsa. It could be whatever meat". Baia, baia, baia...
When Pineda was searching for that one marvelous flat maize concoction that would make his New York taco joint next-level, he had no luck finding one that was up to his standards in the US. So what’s a visionary to do? He went back to Mexico and learned the process of making tortillas, and now his staff makes the masa right there at his taquería — exactly the way it’s made in Mexico. #respect
Variety is important, but really it's all about creativity
Los Tacos No.1 has four taco options: carne asada, pastor, chicken, and nopales. But is that where the culinary paradise stops? Um, no, not all at. This basic menu is only the foundation of many wonderful possibilities. “Sure, we have four tacos, but you can make a taco, a tostada, a quesadilla, a mula, a vampiro (which is in the “hidden menu”: a tostada with a layer of cheese) — but with just those four proteins you can make 10 or 20 different options.”
Look at who you are before setting out to accomplish what you want to do
Pineda is from Mexico. He knows tacos. His partners are California natives. In his words: “I feel really lucky. If I were white, I’d have no idea what I would be selling. My heritage is a huge part, if not the most important part, of my success.” So yeah, looking at where you come from may give you some insight as to which business you’d excel at!
Don’t sell tacos — sell ~an experience~
Mexican culture is lively, vibrant, and tbh, pretty nuts. Pineda knew that when he decided to be a taco entrepreneur, so instead of stopping at tacos, he made a party out of it. And what makes Los Tacos No.1 something more than a taquería? “It’s the music, the staff that’s working there, the yelling behind the counter, the people dancing to the music and enjoying their food — we try to package it all up and fit it in 200 square feet.”
Be the light in the face of adversity
Pineda has been lucky to find a team that has helped him successfully execute his vision, which is one of the toughest parts of entrepreneurship. Today, the challenges he faces come with being in the restaurant business, and there are plenty of them. “There’s nothing worse than coming in at 8, 9 in the morning to the taquería and your grill doesn’t work, your equipment doesn’t work, your trompo is not spinning, those types of obstacles or unexpected problems — you start the day with a list of problems, and at the end of the day you just aim to have them crossed off.” His advice? “Be optimistic and positive; there’s not much to it.”
To be a bomb boss, you gotta listen
Pineda speaks softly yet assertively; he seems like the type of person who wouldn’t freak at the sight of a ghost. But what does being a “good boss” actually mean to him? (He has 50+ employees, after all.) It’s all about listening to your staff. “Listening to problems, issues, dealing with restraints and turning them into opportunities, just being creative in that sense. We don’t point the finger and say, ‘How did this happen?’ It’s like, ‘OK, here’s what happened, so how are we gonna fix it? Who's going to raise their hand?” Pineda lets the employees volunteer to resolve issues and believes that encouraging teamwork is key. “You have to be able to get your people to work for you, and that’s just a self-organism that, together, moves faster versus having individuals that try to do everything by themselves.” Got it, jefe.
To live life the way you want, sometimes all you have to do is tweak your old ideals
Pineda beautifully compares his old ideals with his new goals: "With architecture, I wanted to impact lives and cities on a daily basis, and here in the restaurant industry, we are doing that — maybe not by building buildings but by building tacos. A taco empire, one taco at a time."
“I live my life how I want to live it. It’s the truth. I wake up every morning happy. Me doing this, expanding and opening a new taco spot, has definitely triggered something special inside of me, that I’m doing something because I love it. Do what you love and success follows.”
Go ahead and chase your dreams, especially if they're gonna make the world salivate. And with the new 2017 Toyota Corolla, you’ve got the wheel.
Special thanks to Christian Pineda and Los Tacos No.1 for helping bring this article to life!
All images taken by Sarah Stone for BuzzFeed.