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‘Burrito King’ Masters Recipe for Success

In the beginning, Ruben Rodriguez’s castle didn’t have a moat or a drawbridge. In fact, the self-described king of the burrito didn’t even have a drive-through. But the tiny taco stand that King Ruben built did have a sign. And, in giant letters, Rodriguez let it be known that his Green Burrito restaurant would be serving up platters of Mexican-style food.

That was in 1980, when the Puerto Rican-born Rodriguez held court at his little restaurant in the Los Angeles County city of Hawaiian Gardens.

Thousands of burritos later, Rodriguez heads a chain of 44 restaurants whose sales have tripled in the past three years to $5 million.

As chairman of GB Foods Corp. and owner of 18% of its stock, Rodriguez sits atop an empire of guacamole, tacos and burritos that are sold every day at Green Burrito restaurants from El Segundo to Rancho Cucamonga.

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He has become successful by applying his own aggressive, macho style to the company’s marketing strategy. He decided to put a number of his newest restaurants in less-traveled inland areas such as La Verne and Temecula, with the idea of getting there before the “majors” such as Taco Bell and McDonald’s.

“We’ve been hitting the Temecula-Escondido area hard so that when the majors wake up-- boom ! They’re going to wake up to our stores out there and hear our salsa; the salsa music we play in our stores,” Rodriguez said.

But outside the company, the 47-year-old Rodriguez is little-known. “I’ve been busy with the company, but I’ve just joined the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce here in Orange County,” said Rodriguez, who lives in Yorba Linda with his family. “I want to get involved with the Latino community and activities.”

The majority of Green Burrito’s work force is Latino, Rodriguez said. Of the 44 stores, nine of them are company-owned and employ about 150 workers, including the Anaheim commissary where the food is prepared for all the area stores.

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In the Green Burrito chain, brown-skinned, Spanish-speaking people--who often refer to their boss by the respectful title Don Ruben --are not only found in the kitchens. Many are restaurant managers, while others have gained access to the front office.

Joseph Cabezas is the company’s “chief expediter” and Rodriguez’s right-hand man. Mexican-born Hector Ortiz, 36, another executive, has also worked his way up through the restaurant business.

“Hector came to this country and started 18 years ago as a dish washer with Marie Callender’s (Restaurants and Bakeries). He taught himself to read and write in English. Now he’s a district supervisor for us,” Rodriguez said.

In fact, Rodriguez’s eyes gleam when he talks about Latinos, like himself, who rise to the top.

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“I believe that to be successful in life, you have to be consistent with what you do. Look at me: In my younger days I used to work (from) 7 in the morning to 11:30 p.m. every day. I still work seven days a week,” he said.

“Nobody is going to give you anything. You have to go out and get it for yourself.”


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