This Q&A feature helps readers learn more about people working in the Mount Vernon business community.
This week’s Q&A profiles owner Jose Lopez. Lopez owns and operates three of El Paso’s Northern Virginia locations: Mount Vernon, Springfield, and Fairfax. A family affair, his brother, Daniel Lopez, manages the Mount Vernon location, and his wife, Lorena, manages the Fairfax location.
El Paso specializes in contemporary and authentic dining options, including burritos, tacos, fajitas, salads, soups and quesadillas. Real, Mexican-style brunch — including huevos con chorizo, migas and brunch-style enchiladas and burritos — is available every weekend. The Mount Vernon location offers daily specials and discounts for police officers and firefighters. In addition, El Paso offers a 15 percent military discounts every Saturday and Sunday.
Originally from a Los Angeles, California suburb, Jose has now lived in the Northern Virginia area for over 16 years. After graduating high school, he spent many years working in both construction and the restaurant industry.
Jose and his wife, Lorena, have three children, ages 22, 21 and 8. The family lives in Springfield.
How did you become interested in your line of work?
After working in construction and the restaurant business for many years, I worked hard to save as much as I could, with the hopes of opening up my own restaurant someday. I have worked in multiple restaurants over the years, in almost every possible position, from dishwasher, busboy and waiter, to working the front end. Awhile back, I had been visiting the Northern Virginia area and noticed that were no real, authentic Mexican restaurants around. I made a decision to bring the California-style of Mexican flavor to Northern Virginia.
Describe your business. How does your restaurant stand out from the crowd?
What makes us unique is that we prepare everything fresh daily at El Paso. We make our own fresh salsas, our own chips, our own enchilada sauce. We offer authentic Mexican fare, as well Tex Mex-style. In addition, our prices are way below anybody else’s out there, even when compared to fast food chains like Subway and McDonald’s for lunch. We have quite a regular lunch crowd during the week.
What’s your favorite El Paso dish?
Definitely the “Jose Super Burrito.” It’s actually the most popular item on our menu. It’s a super-size burrito, with your choice of meat, rice, refried or black beans, guacamole, sour cream, pico de gallo, handrolled, and topped with our homemade enchilada sauce and melted cheese. It’s the best.
What do you enjoy most about your line of work?
We are lucky. Our El Paso customers are very loyal to us, and often refer a lot of people to our restaurants. I love being able to give back and help people in our community, especially since the community has given so much to us. We always try to give back, regularly supporting area schools, non-profit organizations and more.
Besides El Paso, what is your favorite area restaurant?
I really like to go to a Peruvian restaurant in Fairfax called La Granja De Oro.
What are your hobbies?
I don’t have many as our jobs require my wife and I to both work approximately 60-65 hours a week. But when we do have spare time, we try to spend it together as a family. And when we can make it work, we like to visit our family in California. I also enjoy drawing.
What was the last movie you saw?
The new Batman movie, “The Dark Knight Rises.” It was a good movie, but tough thinking about the horrible events that recently occurred at the movie theater out in CO last month.
Any new plans for El Paso down the road?
Our next move is to try to transition into the fast food Mexican style restaurant world. I call it El Paso Express Mex. It will be a similar set-up to some of the other “Mexican food” chains out there now [ie., Chipotle], but the biggest difference will be the food quality. Everything we offer will be fresh and authentic. There will be a lot more choices for meats, beans and rice, as well as a selection of Mexican drinks, not just those fancy soda machines you see in other places. I’d also like to add a small bar area in each location, with TV screens to watch sporting events. We are currently working on the plans, and hope to see these locations start popping up by 2014.