When it comes to family businesses, each generation must find their own passion. Despite growing up in the restaurant business, Jesse Gomez never thought that he would end up a restaurateur. Armed with an Ivy League education and a semester of law school under his belt, Jesse quickly pivoted and jumped right into restaurant life. Launching and managing a restaurant is a grind that requires hustle and launching multiple restaurants, well, that takes some serious ambition. Jesse Gomez, co-founder of Mercado, a restaurant in the South Lake commercial area of Pasadena, recently sat down with the Future Yourself Here Team to discuss his modern take on traditional Mexican food and how he turned a risky business decision into a restaurant empire.
what is Mercado’s Story?
Both my business partner and Executive Chef Jose Acevedo and I had an idea for what we thought Mexican restaurants should strive to be like. When we came up with the “Mercado” brand, we envisioned a Mexican restaurant where you could get amazing, yet traditional, Mexican food with an eye on modern presentation and quality ingredients. We wanted our restaurants to stand out from your average everyday Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles so we focused heavily not only on food, but our cocktail program, ambience, and décor as well. In 2012, our first Mercado, located in Santa Monica, was named one of LA Magazines’ top ten best new restaurants. Since then, we have continued to grow by adding three more Mercados in Los Angeles, Hollywood and now Pasadena. Our 5th Mercado (and 8th restaurant in our portfolio) will open in Manhattan Beach later this year.
How has Mercado Evolved?
While we continue to serve our core menu, we strive to make every aspect of our operation better. We change menus out every so often to give our guests a fresh take on Mexican food and drinks. Our restaurant spaces also continue to evolve as we make make improvements in all arenas, including art and decor. As we expand, we grow our infrastructure to better support the operations of a growing restaurant empire.
What was the most important thing you learned in School?
I think the most important thing I learned at Princeton University was the value of hard work. Nothing came easy for me in college. I really had to buckle down and work hard to achieve the scholastic success I desired. There is a strong parallel between my college experience and life as a restaurateur. Day in and day out, I work relentlessly to ensure that my restaurants are successful, profitable and well operated. I need to create a stable work environment for my employees and a consistent neighborhood staple for my guests.
What is the biggest hurdle you have faced in laughing you company?
I opened my first restaurant, Yxta Cocina Mexicana, on skid row in DTLA in 2009. The nation was in the midst of one of the worst recessions ever and I opened an upscale Mexican restaurant in one of the worst locales ever. Needless to say, it took us a year and a half to turn a profit. However, that year and a half taught me everything I needed to know about hard work and persistence. I never take anything for granted and to this day, even though the last restaurants we have opened have generally been quick successes, I always work hard and remember the values that have gotten me to where I am today.
What makes Pasadena an attractive place to do business?
Pasadena has a thriving business community. It is pedestrian friendly with great architecture, and has cultural and sports venues making it an entertainment destination for the region. Pasadena has a vibrant market in which to do business and as a Los Angeles native, I was excited to bring a new Mexican concept with a proven LA track record to the city of roses.