When Alex Reyes immigrated to New York City from Mexico, the 16-year-old spoke little English.
His first job was as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant where the waiters insisted he read an English newspaper to learn the language. When he didn’t know the meaning of a word, they told him to look it up in the dictionary.
English wasn’t the only lesson the waiters taught Reyes. They helped him understand the restaurant business. The most important lesson they imparted, Reyes said, is to “keep in mind that the food you are cooking could be for you.”
Those lessons, along with his experience as a dishwasher, food preparer and waiter, have led Reyes, 44, to open his second Taqueria El Manhattan restaurant. Three years after opening his first in Lancaster, Reyes is locating in the former Little Cafe building at 1919 Cherry Road in Rock Hill.
The Reyes family has been operating the Lancaster Taqueria El Manhattan at 1669 Memorial Park Road. They previously ran a bakery-convenience store after moving from New York City following the 2001 terror attacks.
Alex Reyes made the move from convenience store to restaurant out of profit and the need to provide for his wife and children. Two of the children are in college.
“You make cents on the dollar with a convenience store, but with a restaurant you can make 20 to 25 percent profit,” he said.
Reyes envisioned several locations in the region. He found the Cherry Road site while checking out a potential bakery supplier.
He liked the location for several reasons, a growing Hispanic population in Rock Hill and the presence of several Mexican restaurants along Cherry Road. But, he said, “I didn’t see any taco shops.”
Taqueria El Manhattan advertises it will sell authentic Mexican food.
For some that means using most of the cow and Reyes says they buy their beef in bulk. They then cut their own steaks and grind their own beef. They also have beef tongue and brain for their tacos.
The salsas are also handmade. Each table gets four bottles, two hot and two mild, for the handmade chips. The menu also has a variety of soups including tripe.
Reyes hopes to have the Rock Hill restaurant open in about two weeks. Some upgrades in the kitchen and the dining areas are needed, he said. He expects to employ about six people in the kitchen and six or seven in the dining room.
He hopes the Rock Hill location will enjoy the same reputation as his Lancaster one – a place where people come for the food, the flavor, the portions and the price.