Osiris Hoil won’t forget waking up to the smell of burning beans at 4 a.m.
He was exhausted and ready to give up. The youngest of three children born to poor farmers in the small Mexican city of Tekax, Yucatan, Hoil immigrated to the United States at age 17. More than a decade later, after being laid off from a construction job, he set out on his own.
Hoil purchased and repurposed a hot dog stand, transforming it into a makeshift taco cart that he parked on a curbside between two popular Mexican restaurants in the Rosslyn neighborhood just outside the nation’s capital in Arlington, Virginia. Following his mother’s traditional recipes, he prepared one item every day from scratch: either pollo asado, mole, or burritos.
However, five months in, no one was buying his dishes. Hoil recalls that moment as rock bottom.
“One day, I woke up at 4 a.m. to the smell of burning beans and I wanted to give up,” Hoil recalls in an interview. “I was not making money. I was depressed and stressed. I didn’t see any reason to continue. Then I heard my newborn kid crying and I knew I had to continue for my family. It was signal from God telling me to keep going, to keep digging.”
Hoil was no stranger to hard work or the entrepreneurial mentality. By the time he was 10 years old, he was selling newspapers, flowers and popsicles on the street in Mexico. “If I needed a toy,” he said, “I had to work for it, or build it.”
His grit and persistence eventually started to pay dividends.
Customers began to take notice, and local media soon followed suit. Suddenly, lines began to form around Hoil’s taco cart. A few months later, he opened his first brick-and-mortar restaurant, which he named District Taco. Fast forward nine years, and District Taco has 14 locations with 3 more on the way, and Hoil employs nearly 500 people across the greater D.C. area.
We spoke to Hoil about his entrepreneurial journey, the lessons he learned along the way, and the advice he would offer to other aspiring business owners. Here are his tips.
- You can’t do it all yourself
“If you have an idea, if it’s not working, you have to ask questions and discover why it’s not working. You have to work with a team. You cannot do it all yourself. District Taco is successful not because of me, but because of my team. Sometimes as business owners you don’t want to trust other people, but you have to learn to rely on your team.”
- Invest in your team
“We make an awesome product. The products are fresh since day one. But it’s not just the product. It’s the way how we promote the people in the restaurant. The guy who was a food runner or cashier years ago, is now a regional manager. We invest in our employees and help kick start their careers. We create jobs for those who want to grow and succeed. We work hard to help our employees achieve their personal goals. At District Taco, you can start as a dishwasher, and if you work hard, you can be a general manager.”
- Embrace change
“My biggest mistake has always been not listening enough. Being stubborn. Being from Mexico and feeling like, ‘District Taco has been like this since day one and we’re not going to change.’
Change is really hard for me because I started with a taco stand. District Taco is my baby, and I don’t want people to think we are changing. But we focus on technology to give customers a better experience, I have to be open to feedback.”