El Rancho Grande eatery is a true family affair

Earlier this month, on Cinco de Mayo, there was an all-day party at El Rancho Grande. It was a celebration not only of the importance of this day to Mexicans, a day of independence, but also of the restaurant’s first year in business. “The place was absolutely jammed. The line for a table went right out the door,” said Joaquin Meza, the proud 27-year-old owner.
El Rancho Grande is located on Plainfield Street in Providence. The restaurant serves dishes from Puebla and Oaxaca, both in Mexico. They are dry places and many consider those cities to be the heartland of southern Mexico. It’s jalapeño country, dried peppers. The Meza family moved from this region in 1991. They’ve been living in Rhode Island ever since.
El Rancho Grande is fast becoming “the place” to eat traditional Mexican food locally. Prices are affordable. The atmosphere is comfortable. A flat-screen TV hangs on the wall airing soccer matches from Mexico to England, and everywhere between.
“Ever since I was 10, we had the dream of opening up a restaurant,” explained Joaquin Meza. Now, nearly 17 years later, that dream has been realized: the restaurant is not only open, it is doing very well.
“People come here, not only locally, but from all around. We’ve become, I think, a destination place,” Meza said. “The food my mother makes brings people here. She had the recipes in her head, brought up from Mexico.”
“But it took a long, long time for all of this to happen,” he said. “It began when my mother started looking for a building to buy. Finally she found one and my wife and I bought it.”
Meza was busy working another job, but he toiled long hours with his brother and father – during their free time – building the restaurant. They did all the interior-design work as well. “It would have been very expensive without their help,” Meza said.
While they were working on the restaurant, he and his mother, Maria Meza, had to learn how to get all the permits.
“The liquor license took time and the fire permit did too. We had help. At first, we didn’t know which permits we needed – the councilwoman [Democrat Josephine DiRuzzo] helped very much. She told us where to go for permits and who to talk to. I also did a lot of research online,” Joaquin Meza recalled.
His mother also helped set up and run the business. And she has one of the most important jobs a successful restaurant can offer – she is the cook.
“Without my mother all we’d own is a building,” said Meza.
Despite English being her second language, Maria Meza would talk with anyone: “I never was afraid to ask an office a question. If I didn’t understand I would go myself and find the answers,” she said.
“We’ve learned a lot, said Joaquin Meza. “This is my first business I’ve ever owned. But we had family help – my father and brother helped me build the restaurant. My sister helps my mother in the kitchen. So does my father. And we buy all of our food items from my mother’s cousin.”
Maria Meza’s cousin owns La Poblanita in Providence. La Poblanita is a Mexican grocery store and bakery.
“Everything we get fresh from him,” she said. “We buy rice there and limes, everything.”
Tomas Avila, Latino business developer for the R.I. Small Business Development Center, called the Meza family “the standard of what happens with Latinos who come to America. They work as many jobs as is necessary to own their own business. They do whatever it takes. Because the ultimate goal is the American dream. To save money they don’t hire help. All the work is done, if possible, within the family.”
Family help is the norm at El Rancho Grande. Seven family members help in the restaurant. And as for profit sharing, Joaquin Meza said, “Many get an hourly wage. But me and my mother, we don’t take home the profits – but instead put them right back into the business. Maybe one day, I’ll be able to make this my only job.”
For now, he has kept his day job in construction and painting. Meza arrives at the restaurant every day at 2 or 3 p.m. and works until closing.
“We certainly don’t splurge – money has been hard-earned factory money – my parents worked factory jobs for years,” Meza said. “The dream has been earned.” •

No posts to display