Cal Poly student Sevastian Juarez opened his taquero-style catering business, El Taquerito, early in his life. It serves Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Credit: Courtesy / Sevastian Juarez

Sevastian Juarez bought a small red pickup truck with the help of his grandpa at 17. He didn’t celebrate the purchase of his first car by driving friends around, but started his own business instead.

It was the summer before his junior year of high school in 2018 when Juarez got the inspiration for his taquero-style catering business, El Taquerito.

“I just thought it would be a really cool opportunity for me to make some money, help out my family, make ends meet – and also just create a brand that I was proud of,” Juarez said. 

Born and based in Ventura County, El Taquerito is a labor of passion for Juarez, who is currently an economics junior at Cal Poly. Since its start, the business has grown to serve Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo.

“I’m the one who takes all the calls, does all the bookings and I send away my employees based on where they need to go. And I’ve hired them all myself,” Juarez said. 

Most of his employees are older than him, many of them being Hispanic men that he’s met through years of working in the restaurant business during high school. Others are close friends from high school that assist him at events he attends himself.

“It’s really cool to be able to provide a form of employment for them so that they can support their families,” Juarez said. “Not that it’s their main form of employment. It’s just kind of a side job that they enjoy doing and take a lot of pride in.”

Serving, hosting and bussing tables didn’t only bring him a catering team he could trust, but also gave Juarez perspectives on the variety of cuisines he could incorporate into his own cooking.

“Trying all these different flavors and seeing how these businesses ran, it just really inspired me to create a business out of something that I knew how to do,” he said.

Before he had an established menu, Juarez accommodated his menu for every flavor his clients requested, tending to “do all these different things and add whatever they requested,” he said. After a while, Juarez learned not to stretch himself out too thin and decided to prioritize perfection of his dishes rather than having a larger menu.

The El Taquerito menu consists of the traditional carne asada, al pastor and chicken, but also provides the vegetarian options of elote and mushrooms. These base proteins can come in the form of tacos, quesa-tacos, quesadillas or mulitas. The service also comes with a full salsa bar, which includes several toppings and tortilla chips.

Though it may not be on the website, Juarez provides bulgogi-marinated carne asada as an alternative protein, with toppings such as asian pear, green onion and kimchi. Ironically, the menu item was a result of an early-on client request – the dish was such a hit that it became a regular.

Juarez had another early bump in the road before El Taquerito gained popularity: the pandemic. The crowded nature of catering events halted the business’s growth, but Juarez didn’t let that stop the business from operating. Instead, he began bottling and delivering aguas frescas for revenue.

Juarez’s high school friend and UC Davis biotechnology junior Vijay Kushwaha started working for the business when it first started. He continues to cater for El Taquerito as a cook in Ventura County.

“I was actually excited to work with him, but I was jumping into the unknown,” Kushwaha said. “I didn’t know much about the business. I actually hadn’t even had a job before I worked with them.” 

Kushwaha said that El Taquerito started to gain noticeable traction towards the end of 2020. He said the moment Juarez started working with a Yelp employee to set up a page for the business was when he realized how much it was growing.

“I think he’s grown a lot with his business, but it’s not just his business. He’s grown a lot as a leader and gained a lot of knowledge through trial and error,” he said. “And then he’s also very approachable. He’s not someone that you are intimidated by.”

The rapid expansion of El Taquerito has attracted media coverage, such as the Destination Channel, who had a sit-down interview with Juarez about the business. There is no release date yet, but it will be aired on KCBS Channel 2 in Los Angeles and available to stream on Roku in the near future.

Juarez looks forward to hopefully opening his own location sometime after graduation, but is currently focusing on a summer tech internship in Santa Barbara, along with a renovation project in Ventura with his older sister.

“I’m not waiting because I’ve always kind of created my own opportunities,” Juarez said. “All the success that I’ve acquired is through what I’ve done. I don’t want to say it’s necessarily luck because I will make it happen. It’s just a matter of time.”