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Dolores Robledo, matriarch of influential Roberto’s Taco Shop chain, dies

Dolores Robledo in Escondido in 2015.
(Courtesy of the Robledo family)

Dolores Robledo, who with her husband co-founded one of the nation’s first taco shop chains with its signature fried rolled tacos and “poor man’s” bean burritos, has died at 90 at a La Jolla hospital following a brief illness.

Robledo, who died July 14, was remembered as a loving mother who worked hard in the family’s 77-store chain for more than 30 years to provide a better future for her 13 children.

Born April 11, 1930, Dolores grew up in the tiny ranching village of San Juan del Salado in the Central Mexican state of San Luis Potosí, as did her future husband, Roberto.

In 1944, Roberto left home at the age of 14 to pick cotton in Texas. Later, he worked for the Ford Motor Co. in Detroit and as a farm and construction worker in Santa Rosa. He would travel back to Mexico frequently to see Dolores, and when she became pregnant with their first child, he moved his young family to Monterrey, Mexico.

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In 1956, he brought Dolores and their seven children to San Diego for a brief visit. Two months after she and the children returned to Monterrey, they decided there was no future for the family in Mexico, so she immigrated to California with the children. Six more children would be born in California.

Their son Reynaldo said it was hard for the family of 15 to find a place to live and Roberto often worked two or three jobs to cover the household bills. But whenever social workers tried to set the family up with government-provided benefits, Roberto and Dolores always refused.

“He would always turn them down because when we got green cards to work, we promised we would never be a burden to the United States, and we never were. He was pretty proud of that,” said Reynaldo.

Dolores Robledo with her children, nieces and nephews at her home in Escondido.
Dolores Robledo, fourth from right in the middle row, photographed with her children, nieces and nephews at her home in Escondido on April 28, 2019.
(Courtesy photo)
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Reynaldo said his mother worked just as hard as his father, putting in long days that began before dawn and stretched late into the evenings. Initially, they lived in Santa Rosa, where Roberto picked fruit, vegetables and nuts in the fields while she worked nearby in a canning factory.

In 1964, the couple opened a tortilleria next to the U.S.-Mexico border in San Ysidro. Roberto delivered the tortillas to Mexican restaurants around San Diego, as well as to the U.S. Border Patrol’s immigrant holding facility in Otay Mesa.

When the agents began asking Dolores if she could make beans and rice to go with her tortillas, she and her husband decided to open their own quick-service Mexican restaurant, using her own recipes, Reynaldo said.

Dolores Robledo at 35 in the mid-1960s
(Courtesy photo)
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“My mom was always a hard-working person. Once they started their business, it was a seven-day-a-week job to get up and go to work making tortillas. Most of my older siblings worked alongside them,” Reynaldo said.

Over the next five years, the Robledos purchased four existing restaurants in San Diego, where they served Mexican food but retained the eateries’ original names, including La Lomita and Frosty’s. Then in 1969, they purchased a burger joint called Jesse’s, renaming it Roberto’s Taco Shop. The name stuck.

In its early years, Roberto’s became famous for its fried rolled tacos and its “poor man’s” bean burrito, a two-bite snack that sold for a dime. In 1976, the restaurant introduced the region’s first carne asada burrito.

Although the Robledos have been credited with creating the California burrito, a carne asada burrito stuffed with French fries instead of beans and rice, Reynaldo said he’s not sure his family was the first to introduce the popular item.

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As the chain grew, Roberto invited family members in San Luis Potosí to move to San Diego to work in the restaurants. Eventually, the couple turned over restaurants to each of their children as well as a few other family members. But when a cousin began altering some of the family’s signature recipes, the Robledos asked him to change his outlet’s name.

With a can of red paint, the man changed two letters on the sign, renaming it Alberto’s. From that point, every non-family member who immigrated from San Luis Potosí was asked to use a new name for their restaurant. Reynaldo said there are now more than 70 different " ’berto’s” variations in seven Western states.

Roberto and Dolores Robledo separated several times during their marriage. Their final split came in 1979, when she moved with their five youngest children to a home in Encinitas, where she operated her own Roberto’s location for about 15 years.

In 1990, Roberto moved to Las Vegas to expand the business. He lived there until his death in 1999.

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Reynaldo said his parents, who never divorced, remained friends for life, consulted with each other on business decisions and established a trust for their restaurant business with their 10 surviving children serving as trustees.

In her later years, Dolores traveled the world with her daughters and loved attending San Diego Padres games. She enjoyed working in her rose garden, loved to cook large dinners for family and prayed nightly to the Virgin of Guadalupe at an altar set up outside her bedroom at her Escondido home, according to her daughter, Reyna Robledo.

Reynaldo and his older brother Rodolfo said their mother will be best remembered for her devotion to family.

“She was really a loving person who was always worrying about her kids and grandkids. No matter how old they got, she always wanted to make sure they were OK,” Reynaldo said. “Every single year we celebrated Thanksgiving and Christmas at her house, and for her 85th birthday, more than 200 people were gathered there. Love of family is what really sums her up.”

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Dolores is survived by her children, 39 grandchildren, 50 great-grandchildren and five great-great-grandchildren.


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