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Surviving the shutdown: El Tepeyac is keeping Boyle Heights fed with giant burritos

El Tepeyac Cafe in Boyle Heights
(Garrett Snyder / Los Angeles Times)

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and ensuing shutdown have left many restaurants uncertain about their future. As smaller, independent restaurants across the city grapple with new realities, we asked them to share their stories.

El Tepeyac Cafe in Boyle Heights, opened by the Rojas family in 1955, is best known for its signature Hollenbeck burrito, which Jonathan Gold once described as “an old-line Mexican restaurant’s entire menu wrapped into a bedsheet-size tortilla.” The Times spoke with Mirella Campos, El Tepeyac’s manager and granddaughter of founder Manuel Rojas.

What steps are you taking to keep your restaurant open?

We closed our dining room the week before last and started doing everything through a takeout window on the side of the restaurant. There’s enough room around it so customers don’t have to stand together and they can be safe while ordering. We’re cleaning and disinfecting everything like crazy and making sure our crew is protected as possible when they’re at work. As of now we’ve reduced our hours [to] from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., but we’re open every day.

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How are takeout and delivery going?

It’s been going OK. We get a good amount of people calling in with phone orders and just walking up to the window. I’d say we’re busiest around lunchtime. We’re also on delivery apps and have some employees acting as our own delivery drivers now, even though we weren’t really known for delivery before.

This week we started offering larger family specials, just to catch people’s attention and give back to our customers a little. We know a lot of people aren’t working right now. For $20 you can get an original Hollenbeck burrito, which will feed two, plus an order of taquitos and chips and salsa, which saves you about $6 altogether. More money to spend on toilet paper.

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The El Tepeyac Hollenbeck burrito with pork chile verde.
(Ken Kwok / Los Angeles Times)

What’s your weekly revenue like now versus a month ago? Have you had to reduce staff?

Everything has been cut in half, basically. A normal week we might do $5,000 or $6,000 in sales. Now it’s down to $2,000 or $3,000. We had to let go of our dining room employees for the time being, and instead of two prep cooks and two runners and two cashiers we’re getting by with one each. It’s really tough. Everyone here is like family, and we’re trying to offer them as much support as we can.

What are your plans for the immediate future?

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We’re playing it by ear right now. A lot of restaurants and businesses in Boyle Heights have closed, so we’re trying to get the word out that we’re still open. People in the neighborhood are happy and thankful that they can still order our food. Sometimes they’ll just take their burritos to the parking lot and eat them out of their cars since they can’t sit down in the dining room.

What are you doing these days when not working?

Eat, sleep, try to exercise and be safe. That’s all you can do at this point. We’re all just looking forward to when this is finally over.

812 N. Evergreen Ave., East Los Angeles, (213) 267-8668, eltepeyaccafe.com


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