Ricardo Beas of San Juan Capistrano’s Ricardo’s Place has worked many different jobs in his 46 years in the restaurant business, but his favorite is server.
“Because you get to talk to people,” he says. “I always enjoyed that part. Everyone is different, so it’s a big challenge to make people happy.”
Beas not only enjoys serving his customers food, but also serving and connecting the greater community.
Last year, he and his wife, Rosa, who met doing volunteer work, were named man and woman of the year by the San Juan Capistrano Chamber of Commerce for their community service.
They work with CREER Comunidad y Familia, a free after-school and summer program for local kids from low-income families, and other organizations.
“Giving back to the community comes naturally because of the way we grew up as a family,” says Ricardo. “That’s the way we were brought up in our hometown, to always help people in need.”
Beas was born in Mixtlán in Jalisco, Mexico, and his passion for food came early.
“It’s because my mom was a really good cook,” he said of his mother, Alicia, who died in 2017. “And she had a talent for making anything.”
Beas and his seven siblings grew up in an area without electricity, and he remembers preparing food from the age of 5. His grandmother Juana was the main cook in town.
“You’d grow your own corn, make your own cheese and use whatever you grow in the town,” he says. “In the places you get chicken and pork, they would kill them and you would use every part of the animal. That sort of thing.”
His father immigrated to America first as a bracero, a worker hired as part of the Mexican Farm Labor Agreement in 1942. He milked cows in Northern California, before relocating south to maintain the greens at a Laguna Niguel golf course.
At 12, Beas and his family joined their father in San Juan Capistrano.
When he was 14, Beas started as a dishwasher in the same building that now houses Ricardo’s Place. At the time, it was Pete and Clara’s Cafe and later became a Harris restaurant. He eventually became a cook, learning how to make hamburgers and other American food.
Though his father eventually moved back to Mexico, the rest of the family, led by their mother, opened their first restaurant, La Cocina de Ricardo, in Mission Viejo in 1987 to share their family recipes.
“We all pitch in,” he says. “We do it the old way, all together.”
Beas says the family decided to name the restaurant after him, because he was working as a server and the customers knew him.
“When I was younger I had that charisma,” he says.
When they moved to their current space in 2003, they renamed the restaurant Ricardo’s Place.
Now 60 and a grandfather of three, Beas is proud that he and his siblings have been able to provide for their children. He’s also proud of how the Mexican and greater Latino community has grown in San Juan. When he first started in the ‘70s, he says there weren’t many local Mexican restaurants.
But as he’s reflecting on his work, his fondest memories center around service, whether he was volunteering to coach for the city’s Atlas youth soccer program, or hosting mariachi and dance performers at Ricardo’s Place for CREER’s extracurricular activities.
“It’s nice when you start to see changes and cycles,” says Beas. “In CREER, some of the kids that started in the program made it to college and are now old enough to volunteer for the program and give back, teaching.”
He says that the most meaningful things in life are often hard to describe.
“When people ask me, what’s CREER? It’s hard, you have to come to one of our events,” he says, pointing to their upcoming concert fundraiser on July 28. “If you want to know about Ricardo’s, you gotta eat our food and just feel it.”