My family lived in San Fernando on Maclay and Seventh from the time I was born to the age of 5. My dad, Luis F. Barajas, used to work for Gracianas Tortillas. We moved to Concecion De Buenos Aires in Jalisco, Mexico; there things were rough, but it was a beautiful small town. We all knew each other. I got to hang out with my grandparents and learn a lot from them. Our house had dirt floors, no stucco, and the windows were covered with plastic. It was freezing all the time but I loved it even though my sister Claudia used to make me warm up her bed with my body heat before she got in it.
My dad started selling tortillas again. We would all help him. I used to go with him to the neighboring ranches and towns, selling tortillas. I always wanted to be with my dad and work as hard as he did for the family.
I don’t remember much about school because I would go to work with my dad. Financially things never got better in Mexico, but it was the best time of my life.
My parents decided to come back to America. They didn’t have papers but my siblings did. My sister flew back over here while my brother and I drove back with our parents. Once we got to the border, my parents had to hire two “coyotes”; one to legally pass us through, the other one to help us cross. I remember my mom, Irma, didn’t want to leave. But it had to be done. We were going to meet on the other side as soon as we crossed the border. She was very scared, and we were too, but I had my big brother protecting me.
We made it across. So we are back in the San Fernando Valley.
I was 11-12 years old when my dad found a job cleaning and my mom worked as a janitor. I used to help her. From Monday to Friday, while kids played, I worked. I would vacuum, sweep, clean chalk boards, and throw the trash out while my mom did other things. Parents used to think that I went to that school, but when they found out that I worked there they complained and we got fired.
By that time I was 15, we lived in San Fernando again on Hagar Street. I got my first legal job at a local market called Payless Food, bagging groceries. I went to Patrick Henry Middle School, then to Kennedy High. There I would sell everything I could get my hands on. My mom used to make me like 10 tortas at a time and I would sell them. Then I went Sylmar High, also buying and selling food as well as clothing and fake watches. I used to make my sister take me to downtown (LA) to buy stuff, and I would sell it in school and in the neighborhood.
I didn’t graduate. Instead I dropped out and started working harder. doing everything from gardening to painting to oil changes. You name it, I did it.
I got married to my wife Erica at an early age. We had my beautiful daughter, Sarahi. The day she was born was the best day of my life. But I went home and found an eviction notice because we weren’t making rent. I again lived with my parents. It was hard financial times; my dad didn’t make much and we didn’t either.
My dad said don’t worry, it’s going to be fine. It was like Sarahi brought us all to life. It made me work harder, and we opened our first family business in San Fernando, a Mexican furniture store (my dad’s idea). We started with very little money, but we did so well that I bought my first house in San Fernando on Mott Street.
I opened another store in Canoga Park, but times started getting tough again. Money wasn’t coming in, so we started selling hotdogs outside of the DMV. That was my first experience selling food legally.
I bought my first restaurant. I did okay, then I bought another one but didn’t do too well. Then I came up with an idea — “TacosWay.”
I created my own menu. I took over a small restaurant on Roscoe and started selling my product. People weren’t interested at first; a lot of them told me to stop. I would follow everyone on Instagram, but still no results. I was working 16 hours a day, seven days a week. Not making money was very depressing, but I didn’t give up. I worked harder.
I decided to make a song for my restaurant. I had my friend Eddy write it for me and we made a video. It worked like magic; people started coming in.
I started making more videos. More people liked them. My Facebook page was getting a lot of followers and business kept getting better. It got so good that I had people lined up every weekend, the lines stretching for half a block.
Everyone wanted to try my creation, “TacosWay” as well as the best carne asada and fries done “Papasway.” People would come from everywhere. I opened my second location half a mile away although people would criticize me for opening so close together. Well, guess what; that place did awesome, too.
My third location offered beer. It was there I created the “MicheWay” and it took us to another level — three-hour waits just to come in for some “TacosWay” and “MicheWay.” I had to find another location because this one was too packed.
I’ve had “TacosWay” for three years, but in two years I’ve opened four restaurants including here in San Fernando. I am truly blessed. I’m an example that if you work hard and stick with your idea in this country, you will make it.
I still don’t feel like I’ve really made it. I hope one day I will. But until then, I won’t stop until everyone knows me.
Now I’m super excited to come back to this beautiful city full of history that has given me so much. I hope to be a good asset to the city.