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Thursday, April 18, 2024

Jesus and Diego Ruiz

JESUS RUIZ, FOUNDER
DIEGO RUIZ, MANAGING DIRECTOR
MI PUEBLO RESTAURANTS
WINSTON-SALEM

Fans of Mexican food in North Carolina have likely been influenced by the Ruiz family of Winston-Salem, which is marking its 35th year of operations this year.

Mexican native Jesus Ruiz opened his first restaurant in the Twin City after working at diners in the Atlanta area. There are now 10 Mi Pueblo restaurants and about 400 employees in the state, mostly in the Triad and Charlotte areas. Ruiz has assisted many other Latino restaurateurs, making him one of “the godfathers of Mexican restaurants in the Southeast,” notes his son Diego, who is managing director of the business.

“My father’s ethos has been to do something better than the rest,” he adds. “It’s more than about the money for him. It’s more of a passion.”

He points to the Mi Pueblo site in north Charlotte, where a $5 million investment a few years ago led to an 11,000-square-foot restaurant considered the chain’s crown jewel. A smaller, more efficient restaurant with fewer than the site’s 40 or 50 employees might have made better financial sense, Diego says. But the senior Ruiz “wanted a beautiful restaurant.”

Mi Pueblo’s steady growth stems from attention to detail, the use of high-quality food ingredients, devoted staffers and shrewd business strategies, Diego Ruiz says. He credits his mother, Maria, for also being a pivotal part of the business. “No one can compete with the level of commitment we have.”

The family has limited its use of debt while acquiring the real estate underlying each of its restaurants. Diego’s two siblings are also involved with the business.

Diego, 33, is a graduate of Bishop McGuinness High School in Kernersville and UNC Chapel Hill. He started washing dishes on weekends at age 12 and was a relief restaurant manager as a teenager.

He expects the business to grow with a new Mi Pueblo location in Mooresville that will likely have more of a “fast-casual” approach. A drive-through lane is planned. It is expected to open in 2024.

Diego is also investing in franchised restaurants affiliated with the Dallas-based Pollo Campero chain, which features Guatemalan-flavored chicken. He bought a Pollo Campero in Kenner, Louisiana, with plans to add more in coming years. “It’s the biggest risk I’ve taken in my life.”

What won’t change, Ruiz insists, is the family’s focus on satisfying its guests.

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David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg
David Mildenberg is editor of Business North Carolina. Reach him at dmildenberg@businessnc.com.

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