Benjamin Hernandez, Contributing Photographer

Edgar Marcial grew up hearing his mother say, “si vas hacer algo, hazlo bien. Sino no lo hagas.” The phrase translates into “If you’re going to do something, do it right. If not, don’t bother doing it at all.” 

Upon walking into Marcial’s New Haven restaurant, Tacos Los Gordos, customers will encounter this exact phrase painted on one of the walls.  Marcial said that the mantra has been central to the ethos of Tacos Los Gordos during its rocky first few months — the restaurant opened in early August but was shut down by a kitchen-wall fire a month and a half later. Tacos Los Gordos triumphantly resumed operations in October.

“Not everyone gets to make it out of the [restaurant] industry,” Marcial said. “It’s a very tough industry, and if you’re weak it will beat you down.”

Marcial said that closing down so soon after the restaurant opened discouraged him because they had spent roughly $4,000 on food and additional money on bills and rent just before the fire occurred.

“It took us four months, first of all, to open.” Marcial said. “We were paying rent and bills and when we finally got to open, we got to open for a month and a half, and it went great — people received us very well here.”

Marcial said that on Sept. 7, he began to smell smoke but dismissed it after being unable to locate the source. Later that day, Marcial said he noticed smoke inside of the restaurant despite the fact that nothing was being cooked.

After one of his employees noticed that the basement was filled with smoke, they began to shuffle items around but were still unable to locate where the smoke was emanating from.

“[The fire department] found that a fire started inside the walls because the kitchen stove is somewhat closed and warmed up over time,” Marcial said. “There were wood panels that started burning slowly.”

The day after the fire, Tacos Los Gordos started a GoFundMe page to raise money in its efforts to “catch up on time and money lost.” To date, the restaurant has raised $3,366 dollars of its $15,000 goal.

“My family and I enjoyed tacos at your unbelievably delicious, authentic and cute restaurant just a week before the fire, ” Melissa Gonzalez wrote on GoFundMe. “We were looking forward to many subsequent visits and hope to see you guys back open soon!”

Marcial said that there was an outpouring of support from the nearby community after the fire. As soon as the news broke, he said that the rest of New Haven’s small business community reached out to help. 

He also said that Atticus Market reached out through Instagram and offered Tacos Los Gordos their location for a pop-up event and that Trinity Bar & Restaurant offered to send temporary workers and provide meals for his employees. Menya-Gumi, he said, sent over lunch meals and MakeHaven “over extended” their help with their offering of tools and labor for anything that needed to be fixed.

“We’re grateful for our community, all of us,” Marcial said. “I don’t think we could have picked a better community to be in [with] people not knowing us and extending their help.”

However, Marcial said that he did not take many of the businesses up on their offer for help because he knew that other businesses also had their own matters to attend to.

“Everybody started coming out of nowhere,” Marcial said. “At the same time, I didn’t really want to bother anybody because I know everybody’s got their own things… [and] I needed to figure out what was actually going to happen [because] I didn’t know if I was actually going to open back up.”

Saul Arredondo is a cook at Tacos Los Gordos and friend of Marcial who moved to Connecticut from California to help his friend open his business. He said that despite the challenges, he has enjoyed working alongside his friend in New Haven.

“It’s something new for me, it’s pretty fast-paced and there are a lot of people, but I really enjoy it,” Arredondo said. “[The fire] was a setback but now that we’re back and open, we’re back and going at it.”

Eskunder Boyd, who works nearby, recently saw that the restaurant had reopened and decided to step in.

Although it was his first time at the restaurant, he said that the atmosphere will definitely bring him back.

“I work nearby and I’ve seen it open, and I was hungry, so I thought I’d give it a shot.” Boyd said. “Very nice, very brightly lit, it feels right [and] chances are I’ll be coming back.”

Tacos Los Gordos has now been open for about a month and Marcial said that it has felt as though the restaurant never left.

He said that before Tacos Los Gordos opened, some of his customers would search for authentic Mexican food in the area, just like him. Marcial said that Tacos Los Gordos offers something for everyone but especially for those who could not initially find food that “brought them very close to where they’re from.”

“I’m originally from California… [and] everytime I came down here, I would always want good Mexican food that brought me back home,” Marcial said. “My take [on Mexican food] is what I was taught from very little — I don’t touch it. I don’t add extra things to my tacos like sour cream or tomatoes or anything like that. It’s the way that we do it in Mexico.”

Tacos Los Gordos is located at 167 Orange St.

BENJAMIN HERNANDEZ