For as far back as he can remember, Eli Loera envisioned something like this.
He looks around the restaurant he owns and smiles at the customer activity and familiar faces of family all around him.
Five years ago, he started assembling pieces to build the dream that he pictured long before that. Every obstacle he encountered, he stayed focused.
“I always had a vision,” he said.
Loera, his wife Patricia and 19-year-old daughter Brenda share ownership of Jumbo Burrito in Oak Harbor.
The Mexican-style eatery converted from a truck to a sit-down restaurant four months ago and experienced immediate success that exceeded the whole family’s wildest expectations with lines that stretched out the front door.
“People had to wait outside and sit on benches for like two months straight,” Brenda said.
Now that the restaurant has settled in, and the initial hype has subsided, business remains strong, particularly for the lunch crowd.
Eli Loera said he believes his restaurant has filled a community niche of healthy, authentic Mexican-style food with fresh ingredients served more quickly than a traditional restaurant and at a cheaper price.
Servers create burritos, tacos and other dishes across the counter from customers who stand in single-line fashion.
The burritos live up to their name in size and range in price from $7.50 to $9.50.
“I wanted it to be different,” Loera said. “I wanted it to be like a Mexican Subway.
“We don’t use anything that is from yesterday.”
Five years ago, none of this seemed possible.
Loera was running his own business repairing vinyl in boats and recreational vehicles and raising a large family when serious health issues kept him out of work.
Doctors discovered an aneurysm in his brain and he also was suffering from arthritis in his joints.
Unable to work, Loera was struggling to make ends meet with a disability check when his mother in Mexico, Rosa Arroyo, sold some property and sent him some money to allow him to get back on his feet.
“If it wouldn’t have been for my mother …” Loera said.
As he tended to his health, he started dreaming again about a unique freshfood eatery and took the first step by purchasing a taco truck.
Initially planning to set up the truck selling seafood in Mount Vernon, Loera was convinced by his daughter to go with Mexican-style food and they agreed that Oak Harbor was the ideal place because it lacked that mobile sort of “taco truck” eatery.
But Loera suffered another setback a few days before the truck was supposed to start serving food when he was electrocuted by the deep fryer and suffered a shoulder injury that required surgery.
When the truck opened, it was an instant hit with customers and would later move to other parts of town and ultimately transition to a brick-and-mortar site at its present location on State Highway 20.
Loera said his health has improved with medication and from prayers from so many friends, family and customers.
Yet even when he feels aches, he doesn’t want to complain.
He is surrounded by family with his wife, five children (Clarissa, Brenda, Eli, Guadalupe and Roselia) and two sons-in-law (Diego Torres and Enrique Manzo) all working with him.
He cooks along with his son-in-law Enrique.
“God did a miracle on me,” Loera said.
“I am blessed.”