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La Mesa man goes from restaurant worker to owner

In 2006, when he got a job as a dishwasher at Mario’s de La Mesa Restaurant, he says he always dreamed of owning his own restaurant.

LA MESA, Calif. — A La Mesa man says he’s living the American dream after becoming the owner of a restaurant he worked at for nearly two decades.

Mario’s de La Mesa Restaurant managed to keep its doors open through the shutdown last year. Now, its new owner is talking about his journey from dishwasher to becoming his own boss.

Mario’s opened on La Mesa Blvd 30-years ago but last month a new owner took over, someone already familiar with the place.

Juan Vasquez says back in 2006 when he got a job as dishwasher at Mario’s de La Mesa, he always dreamed of owning his own restaurant. Within a year, he became a cook and then started working as a server. 

But to his surprise in May of this year, he was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.

“They said one night, ‘Hey you know what, we’re going to retire and we’re going to sell the restaurant and she said, do you want it?’ and I’m like, yes!” Vasquez said. 

Mario’s began as a family-owned business and has been serving the La Mesa community since 1982. 

Vasquez said he and his wife Lizette knew very little about the business side of the restaurant but after years of working side jobs for extra money, they were prepared financially to take over.

“I worked seven days, sometimes 12 hour or 10 hours every day, so you know we had a little bit of savings and that helped us a lot,” Vasquez said. 

The menu at Mario’s was created from family recipes originating from Sonora and Sinaloa. 

He said the restaurant managed to survive during the pandemic and it’s menu favorites, such as, the carne asada, fajitas, fish tacos and tamales, that keeps people coming back again and again.

“I come from Kensington to come here, and Bobbie comes from Lakeside. So, we don’t care. We would follow Mario’s de La Mesa anywhere because the food is that great,” said customer Carole Goode. 

Vasquez said his next project for the restaurant is to build more outdoor seating, making the adjustment that he says will keep the business going strong for many more years to come.

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