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Juan Zuñiga of El Compadre Mexican Restaurant & Seafood

BY: TONY TAGLAVORE

July 4, 2016.
“It was very sudden. Very unexpected. It was very tragic. It affected the whole family because he was the glue that kept us all together. He united us all.”

Juan Zuniga was 23 years old when his father, Ines, died at the too-early-age of 55. The family business, El Compadre Mexican Restaurant & Seafood, was suddenly in the hands of Juan, his mother, and his uncle.

“For me, it was very tough, because there were things I had no idea about,” Juan remembers.  “Managing your employees, payroll, accounting, paying taxes. I had no idea what to do with all of that. But I got my thinking cap on, and between my uncle, mother, and myself, we decided to put in our part and help each other out, so we could continue making a living in the restaurant business.”

And the Zuniga’s have done that. But it hasn’t always been easy. “We’ve had lots of ups and downs, but the ups have outweighed the downs.” Juan said. “We’re still here carrying on (my father’s) legacy. This business has given us a lot. ‘A lot’ is an understatement.”

The Zuniga family story didn’t begin on East Kings Highway in Shreveport, where you will find El Compadre. The first chapter was written in Guanajuato, Mexico, where Ines and his wife, Enedina, lived. In the 1980’s, Ines just knew there was a better life across the border. So, he moved to Los Angeles, and worked in restaurants almost 25 years.

“That’s all he knew what to do with his life,” Juan said. “All he knew was the restaurant business.”

12 years later, Enedina joined her husband in the United States. They had two children. Eventually, Ines wanted to be the man, instead of working for the man.

“His dream was to own a restaurant,” Juan said. “He decided to venture out of California and fulfill his American dream of running a business. He checked out several states—Oregon, Nevada, Colorado—and we also came to visit (my uncle) in Shreveport. We came in the middle of July, and it was really, really hot. It was unpleasant.”

The Zuniga’s settled in Colorado—specifically, Denver. Ines bought a restaurant. But it was in a 

not-so-good location—hard to see from the street. So, after a year of losing money, the business closed. Needing to provide for his family, Ines decided they could take the “heat”. The Zuniga’s moved to Shreveport, and Ines began working for Juan’s uncle in the lawn care business.

But Ines kept his dream alive. “(In 2007, my father) found this restaurant, at the time called Margarita Café’,” Juan said. “He was real interested. It was on a street corner. It needed a lot of maintenance, but he was willing to do it. He figured business would be great.” And it was. And it is.

“We have lots of people who have been eating with us from the beginning, and they still eat with us to this day,” Juan said. “Some people come and go. Some people just discovered us recently. Some people have been eating with us for years. To have their support is truly tremendous. It is a blessing.”

 Especially when there is a Mexican food restaurant on almost every corner. “We feel it might be because we are consistent with the quality of our food,” Juan said, when explaining El Compadre’s success. “We are also friendly. We try to always give our best. We try to make sure everyone leaves happy. Without the customer, we would not be here.”

But in 2017, Juan almost wasn’t here. Having closed the restaurant on a late July night, Juan and his mother were walking to their cars, when two men tried to steal Enedina’s purse. Juan stepped in—and was shot in the chest. Twice. 

He spent two-and-a-half months in the hospital “fighting for my life.” 

Juan survived and, thanks in large part to his loyal customers, so did the restaurant. “I don’t know how (the staff) did it but they were really busy,” Juan said. “It was some of the best sales we ever had…It was truly a blessing to have so much support. From people who had been coming to the restaurant. From people I didn’t even know. We had international support as well. (News of the shooting) was all over the place. This was just something beyond my control.”

So as El Compadre lives, so does Ines Zuniga. “It is our motivation,” Juan said. “We are just trying to fulfill his dream of running this restaurant. This is all he knew how to do. This is what he showed us to do. With hard work comes a great reward. We see rewards every single day. We are truly blessed that my father was around to teach us how to work. Nothing comes without sacrifice and hard work. He would put in long hours, just to make sure we had a bed to sleep in and food to eat. This all we know how to do. Just work.”

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