Jorge Parra never intended to join the restaurant business, especially after studying at a Paul Mitchell cosmetology school to become a platform artist − a stylist who performs on stage, mostly at industry trade shows. Part educator, part performer and part salesman, platform artists perform at industry tradeshows and many go on to launch their own product lines as rock stars of their industry.
Parra stumbled into the restaurant business when his mother Maria, founder of local eatery Taqueria Jalisco, asked for help finding a secondary location for the taqueria. Parra agreed, envisioning a short term gig helping her through a tough spot, but five years later, he manages Taqueria Jalisco’s two successful locations on Rossville Avenue and at Miller Plaza.
“We’re an authentic Mexican restaurant that focuses on more typical Mexican cuisine, stuff you won’t find at any other Mexican restaurant in town. That’s what sets us apart,” says Parra, noting Chattanooga’s food culture shift to a palette more curious about new and different foods.
Parra’s 5-year track record of success drew the attention of Young Professionals Association of Chattanooga (YPAC), and the organization named him 2015 Entrepreneur of the Year.
“I felt like it was for really big business professionals,” Parra says of his recent award. “Winning the YPAC award was great and definitely brought a lot of business to us by raising the profile of the restaurant.”
Parra’s next business venture is a tequila bar concept he’s been working on for about a year. While Parra believes there are plenty of good watering holes in Chattanooga, none feature tequila. In keeping with the authenticity of Taqueria Jalisco, Parra hopes to open “a really neat tequila bar where you can experience tequila how it should be experienced.”
“In Mexico, we drink a lot out of pottery mugs or glasses because it changes the flavor of the drink,” he says. “Your drink has this distinctive hint of terra cotta.”
Food at the tequila bar, which will be located on the Southside, will be similar to Taqueria Jalisco’s, focusing on foods that take more time to prepare than what’s on the menu at the existing locations.
The family is also considering expansion to other cities, but wants to maintain their authenticity in the process.
“Our business is not fancy or the most polished, but it is welcoming and inviting,” says Parra. “People come into the restaurant not just for the food, but to see my mother or to see me. If we expand to other cities, we’ll have that same family feel.”
In hindsight, Parra believes his mother used the restaurant’s Rossville Avenue location to engage him in the family business and anchor him in Chattanooga.
“I realized I wasn’t going to do hair anymore after a year of helping my mother,” Parra says. “But I woke up one day and realized I do love the restaurant business. I love every aspect of it, especially opening up a new place. It makes me super excited.”