When Daniel Velasco arrived in America, he had no intention of being a restaurant owner. Now, he’s getting ready to open the second location of Tres Machos Mexican restaurant in the Richmond area.
The new restaurant, at 2313 Westwood Ave., carries the same name as his 5-year-old eatery at 11521 Midlothian Turnpike.
Velasco came to Richmond from central Mexico roughly 10 years ago with $150 in his pocket and a construction job lined up in Hampton Roads.
“The commute was terrible,” he said. “And I was only making like $250 to $300 a week.”
One day, he and some co-workers stopped for lunch. Velasco learned that the waiter was earning two to three times what he was making. That was it. Velasco decided to change careers.
He applied for work at Plaza Azteca in Richmond’s West End. He started as a busboy, and, over seven years, he slowly worked his way up to assistant manager, saving everything extra he could to one day be able to open his own restaurant — all while learning the ropes .
In 2013, Velasco thought he’d found the perfect opportunity when he heard El Ranchero Mexican Restaurant on Midlothian Turnpike was for sale. He jumped at the chance and bought it, not realizing the restaurant was saddled with a one-star online review rating.
“It was really hard in the beginning. I thought the business was going to be easy,” he said. “For two years, I didn’t make any money.”
Still, Velasco persevered. He created a menu of Tex-Mex favorites combined with traditional Mexican fare using family recipes. He tried to keep prices low, with many items priced at less than $10 — something he says he’ll continue at the new Tres Machos restaurant — to try to combat any competition. Happy hour happens seven days a week, kids eat free one night a week and margaritas are $1.50 at lunch — he did and still does whatever he can to keep customers coming in the door.
But it’s been hard.
Velasco opened the restaurant with two friends — thus the name Tres Machos — but they bailed within the first year, so he powered through on his own. He eventually raised the restaurant’s online review rating to four stars and, finally, started bringing in a small profit.
That wasn’t the only change over the years. Velasco settled in Richmond, gained his citizenship, had two children and began thinking about location No. 2.
That’s when fate stepped in. Velasco was shopping for a new refrigerator for Tres Machos at a local restaurant supply store when he ran into a friend who knew a guy who was selling a Greek restaurant on Westwood Avenue.
The friend connected Velasco with Ulysses and Christina Avgeros, a couple who’d owned various restaurants in Richmond over the past 25 years, including Su Casa, Greek Grill Cafe and, most recently, Delphi Greek Cuisine on Westwood Avenue. They’d closed Delphi Greek Cuisine over the summer and decided to retire at ages 85 and 75, respectively.
Velasco and Ulysses Avgeros started talking.
“His story was like mine,” Velasco said.
Avgeros came to America from Greece — to Richmond — in the early 1970s. Like Velasco, he arrived with almost no money. Also like Velasco, he took a job in construction to make ends meet and found, too, that there wasn’t enough money in it, so he turned to restaurant work.
Velasco and Avgeros formed an immediate bond. “We’re like a family,” Velasco said.
Velasco saw the Westwood Avenue space and fell in love. He knew he wanted it for the second location of Tres Machos.
“I said, ‘I love this place,’ ” Velasco said. “ ‘How much money?’ ”
But Avgeros saw too much of himself in Velasco to take any money. He gave the restaurant space to Velasco with a simple handshake.
Avgeros had surgery recently and was unable to comment, but his daughter, Pamela Gingras, confirmed the deal.
“They just felt this connection,” she said of her father and Velasco. “He sees himself in Daniel.”
For years, when the Avgeroses ran a Greek restaurant in the Westwood space — he in the kitchen and she in the front of the house — the couple would catch up at the end of the day at a little two-top table near the kitchen. Velasco wanted to honor the couple, so he painted their names on the wall over the table: Ulysses & Christina Avgeros. And he has declared it their table — whenever and how often they want.
“He reminds me of my grandfather,” Velasco said. “We talk almost every day.”
“They really are so much the same,” Gingras said, “although my dad is many years older.”
Tres Machos opens at 11 a.m. Wednesday, Nov. 14, and will serve lunch and dinner daily. Ulysses and Christina Avgeros will likely be there opening day.