By Daria Kadovik
Family-owned Carlos O’Brien’s has been around for 40 years, and lucky for us, opened their fourth location in Deer Valley!
Growing immigrant population, coupled with domestic adaptations of Mexican food, such as Tex-Mex cuisine, have aided the rise of the Mexican restaurants industry over the past five years. In the United States of the 59,000+ Mexican restaurants in the U.S., 24 percent are chain restaurants like Taco Bell and Chipotle, while 76 percent are independently owned.
Carlos O’Brien was an engineering student at the Arizona State University and was working at a Mexican restaurant, according to Jov O’Brien, the son of the owner and a general manager at the new Norterra location. When Carlos graduated, he was already making more money at the restaurant than any of the engineering job offers. He decided to keep working at the restaurant.
When he was about 28 years old, he decided to open his first restaurant at 16th Street and Bethany Home. The location was extremely popular, so they moved to a bigger location just a few miles north on 12th Street and Northern Avenue to support the crowd size. Since then, they opened two more locations in Scottsdale and Avondale.
The new and fourth location at the Norterra shopping center at 2501 W. Happy Valley Road was formerly a TGI Friday’s. O’Brien said this location was the last TGI Friday’s in Arizona and they worked out a deal to take over the lease.
Starting a new restaurant with a lot of new staff is challenging, said O’Brien. Online they have multiple bad reviews regarding the wait time and service, but they are doing everything they can to keep the customers happy.
“We deal with it, we have to be better. We are a family business, we aren’t like a Texas Roadhouse where they have tons of managers getting paid tons of money,” said Jov O’Brien. “So, it was challenging because we had a lot of volume, more than other restaurants.”
O’Brien said people enjoy their restaurant because it is family-owned and Mexican food is almost like local food in states like Texas, California and Arizona. “It is affordable and people like to come back to the restaurant because we give good portion sizes,” he said – “it is usually more than a person can eat.” O’Brien said they don’t want customers to leave feeling they didn’t get enough.
According to O’Brien, some of the most popular items on the menu include tacos, pollo fundido, which is a chicken chimichanga covered with jalapeño cream cheese and cheddar cheese, and, of course, their margaritas.
Shelby Collum, a local resident and a frequent visitor at the new location, said she enjoys the food and the family-friendly atmosphere at the restaurant.
“We are friendly and we are like a family with customers,” said Ruben Mendez, who has been working at the restaurant for 20 years.
Mendez said establishing relationships with customers is what sets their restaurant apart from big chain restaurants. People like to come to places where staff members know them by name and recognize them, he said.
The new location attracts many local residents and people working at corporate offices like USAA or Cox.
The Deer Valley area is growing and developing rapidly. The new development called Union Park, a 400-acre mixed use community, will bring thousands more families to the area. O’Brien expects that it will bring many more customers in the future.