Biz Beat

They went from Mediterranean food to Mexican, all in pursuit of the American dream

Owners discuss what’s special about new Mexican restaurant in Modesto

Rosalia and Luis Cardenas talk about their new restaurant Taqueria Cardenas in downtown Modesto. (Marijke Rowland/mrowland@modbee.com)
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Rosalia and Luis Cardenas talk about their new restaurant Taqueria Cardenas in downtown Modesto. (Marijke Rowland/mrowland@modbee.com)

If you ever doubt the big dreams and hard work it takes to open a restaurant, look no further than Rosalia and Luis Cardenas.

The husband-and-wife owners of the new Taqueria Cardenas in downtown Modesto started with a dream, added determination, patience and countless hours working behind the counter. The couple bought Al-Afendi restaurant on J Street from its previous owner about a year and a half ago.

Their plan was to the run the existing Mediterranean restaurant as is until they had earned enough to turn it into the Mexican eatery they had always envisioned. So they served up shawarma, hummus, dolmas and the like until this spring when they changed the menu and name to reflect their Mexican nationality.

The couple work together at the spot next to Mistlin Gallery, Luis behind the grill and Rosalia serving customers, for close to 80 hours a week each as the restaurant’s only employees. Sunday is their only day off.

For Luis the long restaurant hours are nothing new, he has been working in commercial kitchens for the past 16 years, around the same time he emigrated to the United States from Mexico. He cooked everything from Mexican to Italian food while living in Pasadena.

Then about two years ago Luis and Rosalia moved to Modesto to be closer to her family who live here. They married shortly after. And that’s where the idea to strike out on their own came to the newlyweds.

“He used to work in kitchens for many years. Then we decided to own our own business – the American dream,” Rosalia said.

The new Taqueria that bears their last name serves up a wide variety of Mexican favorites. Some of their house specialties include tacos al pastor (pork), chile relleno and shrimp cocktail. But they also decided to keep some of the old Al-Afendi favorites like gyros, falafel and baklava for the longtime customers.

“People were asking for it and we thought why not give them what they want,” Luis said. “It’s been very good. We’re doing well.”

The small spot has seating for about 45 inside and out. A fresh salsa bar offers five different varieties as well as other toppings. And the generous happy hour runs 5 to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday with $1 tacos, $2 domestic beers and $3 foreign beers as well as other specials.

The recipes come from their families, who both hail from the state of Jalisco. And Rosalia said that’s what sets their food apart from other Mexican eateries in the area.

“It’s not a competition. There are different flavors and regions of Mexican food. Its not all the same,” she said.

To check out the offerings at Taqueria Cardenas yourself, visit for breakfast, lunch or dinner from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 1017 J St. in Modesto. For more information call 209-529-1461 or visit them at www.facebook.com/taqueriacardenas.

Elsewhere around the Business Beat:

If you cold brew it, they will come. At least that’s what Modesto native Jamie Griswold is betting on.

The trainer at Get Fit Modesto has started the new pop-up Culture Coffee bar selling cold-brew coffee and cold brew protein shakes. After more than four years with the Modesto studio, Griswold said she was interested in combining her love for health with her love for coffee.

Cold brew, which has become quite trendy recently, is different from regular iced coffee in that it is made with cold water instead of hot and steeped longer. Griswold, a Downey High graduate, uses organic coffee beans and brews hers for 18 hours.

She has been experimenting with flavors and and mixes for the past year. The result is Culture Coffee Bar, which she runs with help from her husband Brian. Griswold recently began having pop-ups at her gym on McHenry Avenue and her goal is to have a mobile coffee trailer or truck in the next year.

At her pop-ups she offers one flavor of cold brew coffee and one flavor of cold brew protein shake. Her past concoctions have included vanilla, chocolate cinnamon and even churrro.

She was inspired to start her coffee business in part from her own health journey, during which she’s lost 120 pounds in the past five years. Her drinks are meant to be a more healthful alternative to traditional coffee drinks which can include sugar-loaded syrups.

She plans to begin with Get Fit gyms and perhaps branch out to other health centers. But, she said, not all her offerings will be 100 percent healthy.

“The goal is to have a craft coffee with a local feel. How can we make Modesto better and what can we do to add to people’s health. I want to be part of that culture of community,” she said. “We can support people’s whole health and enjoy good coffee.”

The next Culture Coffee Bar pop-ups will be 8:30-11:30 a.m. Wednesday and 7:45-11 a.m. Saturday at Get Fit Modesto at 2801 McHenry Ave. For more information visit www.facebook.com/culturecoffeebar or on Instagram @culturecoffeebar.

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