GULFPORT -- It took a leap of faith, trust in God's plan and the view of the Mississippi Sound to convince Juan Maldonado to close his popular restaurants in Baton Rouge and take a gamble on Long Beach. Six years later, Juan Tequila's in Long Beach is still very popular among locals, and Maldonado has opened two other locations -- one in Saucier that has been open for three years and a new spot just off Canal Road in Gulfport near Interstate 10.
"I just fell in love with the Coast, and it's been great," Maldonado said. "People are so nice, and I like it a lot. It's very peaceful."
Maldonaldo, 40, has been working in the food industry for 25 years. He moved to the United States from Mexico City in 1988 and worked with his cousins at Fernando's, a Mexican cuisine chain in metro Jackson area. His family opened the first restaurant in Pearl in 1982.
He then opened up his own chain of successful restaurants in Baton Rouge, but closed them to come to South Mississippi. When he went to tour the location of Juan Tequila's, he said he knew it was meant to be.
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"When I walked in, it (the building) was just a shell," he said. "I got in love with the view. Everybody was like, 'You're crazy, why are you going to do it in Long Beach?' I just had a feeling."
Maldonado's unique business plan is part of what keeps folks coming to his restaurants. Taco Tuesday, where all beef and chicken tacos are 99 cents, is always busy.
"You can get 100 tacos, whatever you want (toppings) on the taco," he said.
Military, police and rescue personnel always get 25 percent off at Juan Tequila's venues. On Thursday nights, people take the stage for karaoke during dinner, and Maldonado typically books live music on the weekends.
"We always post on Facebook if we have something good," Maldonado said.
The newest location, located just off Interstate 10 near the Gulfport Sportsplex, is branded as El Mariachi and Juan Tequila's. He co-owns the space with Bernard Garcia. Garcia's sister, Michelle Garcia, is the manager of the venue.
"It's the same restaurant. We've got the same quality of food. Everything is made fresh," Mal
donado said. "One of the ways I really think that we're different is that we try to be authentic."
Maldonado is proud of the six different sauces offered on the menu that are made from scratch: a white cheese sauce, a yellow cheese sauce, a verde salsa, a red salsa, a ranchero sauce and an enchilada sauce. Garcia said the house-made hot sauce is also delicious.
But the 8,500 square-foot building is more than just a dining area.
There is a brick courtyard with several pool tables. There is a large stage and dance-floor area. The bar is placed at the center of the building.
On Monday nights, the Canal Road location hosts salsa dancing lessons, and the first class is free.
"They can come in and see if they like it," Maldonado said.
Garcia, who custom-built most of the interior of the building, said the parking lot makes it easy for truckers to come in and eat before heading back on to the road.
"We're trucker friendly. They've got enough space to turn around," he said.
Maldonado said he hopes his loyal customers will try out the Canal Road location, and he wants South Mississippi to know that he is very grateful for the continued business.
"Every morning I wake up, I thank God for this great nation and where I live," he said. "This is the land of opportunities. You work hard, and anybody can get anybody can get anything they want. In my country, if you work hard, you don't get nothing."