In the early ’80s, Victor Nunez was an economic refugee from Mexico working 120 hours a week as a dishwasher in Los Angeles.
At 16, Nunez painfully left his single mother and three siblings behind in Mexico with dreams of greater economic opportunities in the United States. After a nearly 1,500-mile trek from his hometown in Villa Hidalgo, Mexico, Nunez found himself in Whittier, California, earning $3.10 per hour scrubbing pots and pans.
“It was a dirty job, and it was only supposed to be temporary,” said the now 50-year-old.
With a desire to reunite with his family in Mexico, where he’d grow tomatoes and chilies, Nunez said he decided to stay in California after he got a raise to $5.50 per hour. He worked more than 16 hours per day, seven days a week to help provide for his family.
At the time, Nunez said he never envisioned decades later that he’d be preparing to pass down his own restaurant to his American children. He currently owns Beny’s Diner on South Broadway in Cortez.
“I’m happy and proud,” said Nunez. “It’s nice to be working with my family.”
Citing continuous struggles with his current landlord, Nunez said he prayed for an opportunity to purchase property and build his own restaurant facility.
“When the Lord opens doors, they can’t be closed,” he said.
His faith was upheld last week when the city of Cortez approved a site development plan for Nunez to relocate the family business to 1019 E. Main St. The new, 2,700-square-foot restaurant will offer indoor seating to 78 customers. A planned outdoor patio will make available an additional 32 seats. Nunez hopes to open the new space east of One Stop Taqueria by next summer.
“This has been my dream,” said Nunez.
Asked how he would inspire others who might have doubts about accomplishing their goals, Nunez said anything was possible.
“All you have to do is start and believe in the Lord,” he said. “Be positive about your dreams.”
Oldest son Victor Nunez, Jr., 24, said the new business would continue serving fresh, quality dishes at affordable prices. He added the family owes that commitment to customers.
“All of our customers are local, and we know their faces,” said Victor Nunez, Jr. “They leave here happy, and that’s what makes us happy.”
Asked if he followed his father’s footsteps working 120 hours per week, Victor Nunez Jr., replied with a grin, “No, that’s crazy.”
“I worked hard, so he wouldn’t have to,” his dad added, with a proud smile.
Nunez and his wife, Magdalena, also have two other children. Their youngest, Beny, now 19, started working in the kitchen at age 7. Their middle child, Marlene, works in the restaurant when she’s home from Fort Lewis College.