Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Young Barrio Businessmen Thriving in Mid-City

story and photos by LEO E. LAURENCE

Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

While the economy nationally has been tanking; some young, local Mexican businessmen are thriving. And, they are in mid-city.

Real Mexican Food in City Heights

So-called “Mexican” restaurants and fast-food places in every neighborhood, but most serve food that has been Americanized.

But a 29-year old Mexican in City Heights is running perhaps the most unique, local ethnic res-taurant; other than in Mexico itself.

It’s Super-Cocina, located at 3627 University Avenue; and it is hugely successful.

Juan Pablo Sanchez created merchandising magic when he took over the family’s Mexican res-taurant from his father, Fernando. He holds a U.C.S.D. degree in political science. He’s smart and is active in the City Heights Business Association.

Sanchez had an unusual idea. He decided not to use any professional chefs. Rather, he has hired only local housewives who prepare the menu as if they were at home.

Expanding his operations from the Mexican restaurant property, Juan Pablo also is doing a growing catering business.

His regular patrons are increasingly Anglo, though Latinos from as far away as Chula Vista eat there daily.

“When I tell my Anglo friends about Super-Cocina, I’m surprised how many already know it,” says Esequiel Serrano, 27, a Latino in Hillcrest.

“The Barrio Boyz”

“The Barrio Boyz” sounds like the name of a boy band, but the term refers to a growing group of young Mexicans in the barrio whose several businesses are thriving, even in our global economic slump.

Led by Roberto “Tony” Ariaza, 27, of the barrio and Juan Jose (“JJ”) Martinez, 26, of North Park, “The Barrio Boyz” include “Caver” alumni from San Diego High School (SDHS). Araiza is a former SDHS champion wrestler, and Martinez is a former captain of the SDHS Caver football team. Tony Araiza’s brother, Daniel, is also part of “The Boyz,” as they call themselves.

While the economy nationwide is skidding erratically, The Barrio Boyz are now successfully operating — and expanding — a handful of businesses.

In addition to major construction in the barrio, The Barrio Boyz will soon be opening a CRICKET store in Banker’s Hill at Fourth and Laurel. They are also expanding into North Park.

While contracts had not yet been signed at press time; these young Mexicans may renovate the huge, former banquet hall/Gay bathhouse at University Avenue and Massachusetts, across from the Albertson’s supermarket.

Their currently operating companies include (1) “El Cilantro,” a Mexican fast-food business in Imperial Beach; (2) “Unos,” a custom auto accessories store in Chula Vista, (3) Cricket cell-phone stores in four neighborhoods including Banker’s Hill, (4) “All Cali Realtors,” a real-estate brokerage in Chula Vista and San Diego; and (5) Blueprint Construction in both cites.

While these young guys (muy guapo) are professionals who would be comfortable on Times Square, they can also be tough.

Manuel “Manny” Vera, the head of their construction company, Blueprint Construction, is a skilled boxer who has never lost a fight. Yet these high-energy young Mexicans are polished entrepre-neurs.

They are also seriously involved in community and political activities, particularly in the barrio.

They have even offered to build a duplex cottage for the Houses of Peru and Mexico in Balboa Park’s House of Pacific Relations, if it gets approval.

Araiza, who is politically well connected in the barrio, is seriously considering a run for elective office and plans to attend law school.

All the Barrio Boyz are fluently bilingual. One, Michael Spencer, is a former Marine and African-American.

Contact Leo E. Laurence at (619) 757-4909 or at


PHOTOS, top to bottom:

Young Mexican businessmen Roberto “Tony” Araiza (left) and Juan Jose Martinez of The Barrio Boys look over the neighborhood at Fourth & Laurel Street. Immediately behind them is the location of their new Cricket store.

Young owner Juan Pablo Sanchez watches while housewives Ines Hernandez and Asela Mendoza are cooking.