Thirty-two years later, it’s still a family affair at El Cazador

Alonso Rodriguez can remember when “Lupe” stood only waist high and wandered around his parents’ Mexican restaurant looking for something to eat.

Jose Rodriguez and his wife

Alonso Rodriguez can remember when “Lupe” stood only waist high and wandered around his parents’ Mexican restaurant looking for something to eat.

Rodriguez guesses Lupe was about 5 years old when he gave him a request that baffled him.

“I want to try a hamburger,” he told his uncle.

“I said, ‘Why don’t you eat burritos?”

Lupe is all grown up now, sporting a beard and carrying around grown-up

responsibilities while his taste buds have matured, too.

Still called Lupe by his family, Jose Rodriguez and his wife Natasha are owners of the El Cazador restaurant that has existed since before he was born.

This month, the restaurant is celebrating 32 years in Oak Harbor with a husband and wife team and extended family all working to carry on the traditional values established when Rodriguez’ parents opened the eatery in 1982.

Jose Rodriguez, 29, and his wife took over the restaurant seven years ago from his mother, Hilda, who ran the business for nearly two decades after her husband, Aurelio, died in 1989.

With the transition to the next generation came the expectation to continue El Cazador’s traditions of active community involvement and authentic Mexican dishes made from scratch.

Rodriguez, who was 4 when his dad died and learned the restaurant trade from his mother and extended family, welcomed the responsibility in a town he grew up in and in an environment he knew well.

A class of 2003 Oak Harbor High School graduate, he learned by bussing tables, providing table service and listening closely to his mother.

“She was very tied to the community,” said Natasha, a 2005 Oak Harbor graduate. “She taught him everything he knows.

“He’s very passionate.”

Rodriguez has benefitted from close proximity to other family as well. At the restaurant, he is surrounded by three “uncles” who provide both a link to El Cazador’s success and to a father he barely got to know.

Pepe Rodriguez is the head chef, while Alonso Rodriguez is the soux chef. Paco Rodriguez has been the restaurant’s bartender for more than 20 years.

All three are brothers and are cousins to Aurelio but to “Lupe” they’ve always been uncles.

“I love it,” Jose Rodriguez said about working with family. “When my dad passed away, I was only 4 years old. I didn’t really get a chance to know who my dad was. Now I’ve got a different perspective from my uncles how he was.

“They tell me, ‘You have the same vision and same drive that your dad had.’”

The three Rodriguez brothers are the restaurant’s “culinary geniuses,” Natasha  said.

“They are a link to our past and our culture. They hand make everything from this restaurant from scratch.”

And they let the Rodriguez husband and wife team focus on the keys to running the business.

“To me it’s community at the end of the day,” Jose said.

More in Business

Chamber honors business success

Coupeville Chamber of Commerce held its annual awards banquet and board installation… Continue reading

New nursery in Coupeville blooming with energy

Jackie Bartsch has been getting a lot of lookie-loos in the last… Continue reading

Bringing style, design options to Central Whidbey

Owners of a new interior design store want their shop to be… Continue reading

New county contract brings added WSU programming

As of March 1, Washington State University Extension, Island County serves as… Continue reading

Sweet! Tickets are still available for Coupeville’s tastiest event of the year

A handful of tickets remain available for Saturday’s Coupeville Chocolate Walk. For… Continue reading

Whidbey Coffee gets new facility, wholesale manager

One of Whidbey Island’s homegrown businesses is getting a double shot of… Continue reading

Fight off that turkey coma with variety of weekend activities

There are several events happening this weekend, sure to revive even the… Continue reading

Record file — Freeland entrepreneurs Jill and Steve Rosen recently purchased Whidbey Island Ice Cream. The Rosens also own Freeland eateries Rocket Taco and Freeland Freeze.
Freeland business owners scoop up Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co.

Whidbey Island Ice Cream Co. has new owners. Steve and Jill Rosen,… Continue reading

Rosalie Gale photo
                                Foamy Wader owner Alexa Allamano works on one of her nautical-themes pieces of jewelry in her Langley storefront.
Langley jewelry store takes inspiration from the sea

Lifelong Pacific Northwest resident Alexa Allamano has always been fascinated by the… Continue reading

Students get ‘real-world’ biz experience

Starting Monday, four teams of Oak Harbor High School students will get… Continue reading

Organic Farm School excels in new digs

The Organic Farm School survived its first year at its new Maxwelton… Continue reading

Island man grows pet composting biz

Saying goodbye to pets is tough. Now, however, Fluffy doesn’t have to… Continue reading