La Nueva de Zacatecas initially sold tortillas only, but soon expanded its menu. Shutterstock

Restaurant Business

Trouble With ICE Couldn’t Stop This Growing North Texas Tortilleria Chain

Not even a deportation could keep Alondra and Javier Vazquez from expanding, on both sides of the border, their La Nueva tortilla shops.

Alondra Vázquez walks into her North Texas tortilleria—a shop that makes and sells tortillas—and cheerfully greets her employees. One would never guess that Vázquez, owner and co-founder of La Nueva de Zacatecas, had just completed her monthly, 12-hour drive to Dallas from Monterrey, Mexico. Before March 2016, she had no reason to commute between the U.S. and Mexico.

For 16 years, Vázquez and her husband, Javier Vázquez, ran their business without incident. Javier and his father, Arsenio Vázquez, shared a dream to see Arsenio’s tortilleria—which first opened in 1968 in a city called Rio Grande in the Mexican state of Zacatecas—grow outside their hometown.

Opening a Monterrey tortilleria lifted Javier Vázquez’s spirits.

In 1998, the newlywed couple decided to make that dream a reality in North Texas. Javier took on two jobs here, at a carwash and as a carpenter, while Alondra worked at a restaurant. A year later, they began scouting locations for the tortilleria, finally settling on a space in Arlington. In 2000, Alondra and Javier, alongside Arsenio and his wife, Carolina Martinez, opened the doors to the first La Nueva de Zacatecas.

At first, they were making $10 in daily sales, despite the fact that Alondra and Martinez were literally handing out free packages of tortillas at nearby apartment buildings, inviting people to the new business. “We started to see that a business could not keep itself from just the tortilla,” Alondra says. So they expanded their menu to include traditional Mexican dishes like gorditas, burritos, and salsas.

Within six months, business finally picked up, and Arsenio and Carolina returned to Zacatecas. By 2009—a year after Alondra became a U.S. citizen—she and Javier had opened nine stores in Dallas-Fort Worth. By 2016, the tortilleria was logging approximately $4.5 million in annual sales and employing around 100 people. The couple seemed unstoppable.

Then came March 2016. That’s when Javier, who was undocumented, was detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement during a business trip to New Mexico. For the next three months, Alondra would travel back and forth between Texas and New Mexico, where her husband was being held by immigration authorities—unjustly, the family contends.

When Javier eventually was transferred from New Mexico to El Paso, Alondra, who has a fear of flying, opted to drive to El Paso on a weekly basis for 15-minute visitations. Not once during these visits did they discuss their business in detail. Alondra had promised herself that she would not share any troubles related to the tortilleria. “I always gave him my best face, my best answers,” she says. “I never updated him about problems with machines or decisions.”

While she appeared calm and collected, inside she was distraught. Before Javier’s detention, Alondra mostly handled the administrative tasks and supervised the cooking. Javier managed other aspects of the business, like orders and equipment purchases. They always bounced ideas off each other before making major decisions. Now, Alondra was making all the calls. She began to depend more and more on her sister, Karen Reyes. While Javier was detained, Reyes helped Alondra with her children and eventually became her right hand within the business.

In time, Javier was deported back to Mexico. So at 9 p.m. on May 26, 2016, Javier and Alondra were finally reunited outside a shopping center in Juarez, Mexico. She recalls the moment being bittersweet. “We felt defeated because we were back in our country under these conditions, but happy because he was finally free,” she says.

Though they’d planned previously for Alondra and the kids to remain in the U.S. in case Javier were deported, they now decided the whole family should move to Mexico and be together. They settled finally in Monterrey, about 235 miles southeast of Rio Grande.

Readjusting to their new lives was challenging, Alondra admits. Her husband fell into a depression. She didn’t know how to talk to him about the business without making him feel even worse. They both knew that, since Alondra was an American citizen, it was she who would have to travel between Mexico and Texas to run the business. Then, three months after their relocation, Javier announced that he wanted to open a new store in Monterrey: “We need to change how we’re working,” he said.

Working on the new shop brought back his motivation. Though the new store’s décor outshines the DFW locations, Alondra admits it took them some time to adjust to business in Monterrey. While their North Texas stores open around 6 a.m. and don’t close until 8 p.m., for example, in Monterrey they don’t open until 8 a.m. and close at 5 p.m. Because of the city’s culture, which is not keen on “outsider” businesses, they changed the name of the tortilleria. They decided to drop “Zacatecas” from the name there and instead opted for just “La Nueva” with “Monterrey” beside it.

Javier also found a way to be present in the North Texas businesses. Whether via Skype or FaceTime, Javier sits in on meetings with the U.S. teams. He also works closely with Reyes. She handles everything from media calls to store check-ins and reports back to the Vázquezes. Meantime, Alondra visits Dallas-Fort Worth once a month.

Though the family and business have faced a series of trials, Alondra says the couple has never even once considered selling the thriving North Texas enterprise. “If one of the founders can still travel back and forth and the other can still take control and share his ideas from [Mexico], we’re going to keep moving forward,” she says. “La Nueva de Zacatecas did not end with a deportation. On the contrary, there’s much more out there for La Nueva—a long road we have yet to walk.”

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