Free Enterprise Staff  | May 6, 2016

How one immigrant entrepreneur went from unemployed to D.C.’s taco king

Crowds regularly line up outside of District Taco, a chain of popular Mexican restaurants famous for its spicy cuisine. In fact, District Taco has become so well liked since the 2010 launch of its first restaurant in Arlington, Virgina that founders Mark Wallace and Osiris Hoil have opened seven locations in the neighboring D.C. metro area to keep up with demand. These days you could call them the D.C. Taco Kings.

And in an area where food trucks and restaurants run aplenty, to be named the king of anything is quite an achievement.

District Taco (or DT as fans lovingly call it)  has come a long way since its 2009 inception when Hoil would run the business from a standalone taco cart. He and his partner would later go on to set up their first brick-and mortar location after word-of-mouth about the business spread.

Business is so good these days, Hoil points out, that he and his partner plan to open four more locations this year and are even considering an initial public offering so the company can grow even faster. While he modestly points out that he “still can’t believe” the company’s rapid success it’s easy to see he’s living out every entrepreneur’s wildest dream.

Born in Yucatan, Mexico, Hoil’s secret sauce for success lies in creating health-conscious Mexican food using flavors his mother taught him as a child.  It was in Mexico that Hoil learned his mother’s recipes, which he would then replicate after immigrating to the U.S. at 18.

He would often find solace in cooking Mexican food since he knew few people and little English after relocating, he says.  “When I came here I missed my mom’s food so much that I started cooking like [her],” Hoil explains. “In Mexico, we don’t go to McDonalds. We don’t go to restaurants. I lived on a farm, and whatever my mom would cook I would eat.”

Although, his entrepreneurial journey wasn’t something he planned, he confesses.  The 2008 recession gutted the housing industry and he soon found himself laid off.  “I lost my construction job, and the inspiration [for DT] was my family,” he says. “I needed to do something. I had to provide for them.”

Enter Hoil’s then-neighbor, Mark Wallace. “He loved my food and when I lost my job, he was the one that had the idea to open a food truck.”

For entrepreneurs who hope to emulate Hoil’s success, he advises people to seek out help from family and friends and (as unlikely as it may seem) incorporate exercise into their daily routine.  It was working out that helped him battle through financial setbacks and provided a much-needed perspective on life when things “turned dark,” he says. “You’re gonna get depressed. If you don’t [find a way] to release that depression it’s going to consume you and your business.”

Truth be told, however, exercise didn’t turn a taco cart into a successful franchise. Sheer grit and determination did. “You need to have faith,” Hoil says. “You cannot give up, and must always focus on the idea. Always look at where you want to be in five years and go for that.”