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The Coast News

The Roberto’s empire expands to Encinitas

David Boylan

Roberto's Encinitas
Local Mexican food options have grown by one with the addition of Roberto’s in Encinitas. Photo David Boylan

Our Mexican restaurant options just increased with the addition of a Roberto’s Taco Shop at 471 Encinitas Boulevard in the Smart & Final shopping center. It’s tucked into the corner and would seem, on the surface anyway, not the best location to open a Mexican joint in an already crowded Mexican restaurant market. That was me jumping to conclusions before I did some research on Roberto’s and found this family has over seventy locations throughout the Southwest. You don’t grow to that size by selecting bad locations so I’m pretty sure they do their research and make smart business decisions.

Their story almost defines American Dream of coming to this country with nothing and through hard work, business savvy, and being in the right place at the right time leads to success. Roberto Robledo, for whom the restaurants were named, was born in Central Mexico, to an extremely poor family. As a child, his family home was made from hay and mud, and dirt served as the only floor. Their only income was from gleaning firewood in the local countryside, to sell to fellow villagers. Roberto was forced to quit school at the first grade so he to help support his family. In 1943, at the age of 17, Roberto moved to the United States, He worked for a Mexico City company near Seattle, working on the railroad, then went on to other jobs, mostly menial labor, where he made barely enough money to live. In 1948, Roberto moved back to Mexico and married. He then returned to the United States, where he continued to work as a laborer, as well as a migrant farm worker, sending money back home each month to support his growing family.

In 1964, after years working various hard-labor type jobs Roberto decided he needed to try something new. Borrowing an idea from his brother, who had previously started a small tortilleria near Santa Rosa, California, Roberto decided to start his own tortilleria in San Ysidro. He felt it would be worth it, even if he only made enough tortillas to feed his family, which at this time had grown to 9 children. Soon after, Roberto seized an opportunity to expand his business by purchasing a Ford station wagon for $40, and started delivering his tortillas to Mexican restaurants in the San Diego area, eventually expanding to three delivery routes. In 1966, one of Roberto's clients convinced him to open his own restaurant, and even helped him find his first location. From there, he began opening new shops whenever and wherever he found a promising location, at the right price, as well as gradually expanding his menu to include more than 40 items. By 1991, Roberto had more than forty shops. He needed that many, he said, so he could set his children up in business for themselves. 11 of his 13 children operate taco shops in the San Diego area including Jose in Encinitas. Roberto Robledo passed away in June, 1999. His family proudly carries on Roberto's tradition of offering quality, fresh Mexican food, at reasonable prices, and they continue to expand, with Orange County on their radar next. I was curious to know if they had ever had corporate suitors looking at acquiring Roberto’s and sure enough, PepsiCo came knocking a few years back, but was unsuccessful in their attempt. The Robledo’s preferred to keep it a family run business.
Their menu is extensive, with many Mexican American staples and the rolled tacos, quesadillas and carne asada burritos have developed a following and are their best-sellers. Roberto’s definitely has a style all their own, and has added salads and rice bowls to cater to the more health-conscious clientele. I should also note that on the Monday I stopped by for lunch the place was packed but they managed to keep the line moving and the wait was not unreasonable. The few people I talked to while waiting had welcomed the arrival of this Roberto’s to Encinitas having grown up with them in different areas of San Diego.

It should be noted that that a family member broke ranks a few years back and started Roberto’s Mexican Food which is a separate business. Locations and menu for the Roberto’s in this story can be found at www.robertostacoshop.com.

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