DALLAS — I asked Jose Luis Rodriguez if it was too much of a stretch, too over the top, to call his current situation an actual "American Dream." But he says that's exactly what his life is right now, with a heavy dose of Mexican flavor, Japanese cuisine, and a French-inspired bechamel sauce thrown in for good measure too.
Several months ago, however, his first dream wasn't exactly taking off. He tried one of those "ghost kitchens" where you rent a kitchen space and fill online and take-out orders only.
"It's the belief that keeps me going," he told me then.
But his belief, and his dream, was that he would someday have a full restaurant of his own.
He came to America from Mexico 22 years ago and settled in Dallas.
"Just get a better life. Get educated," he said.
And spent all of those years as a waiter, as a server, working for other people. His real dream was to be a chef and owner of his own restaurant.
Well, just last month, the doors opened at Mixtitos Kitchen at the corner of Grand and Samuell in East Dallas. It's where you can find Jose Luis behind the bar, directing a staff of cooks and sous chefs in the kitchen, and constantly making the rounds in the dining room welcoming customers.
"You don't have to cook anymore. Let us do this for you," he joked with one of his first customers. "Great to have you here friends. Absolutely any time."
And it's where you can find his dream beginning to come true.
"I always put myself and put this as one of my mantras, hard work pays off. And that's what I've been doing."
He and his family, his wife, his daughter, and a sister-in-law all work at Mixtitos. They took an old restaurant space, remodeled it, reimagined it, and turned it into their own. And they commissioned a mural for their center stage. A curving roadway through a small town shows a Mexican man staring across the plaza at a Japanese woman: that would be Karina, Jose Louis' wife.
"I strongly believe in his talent," said Karina Totsuka whose mother was Mexican and her father Japanese. "And I know I know how capable he is. So that's why his dream became mine. Because I believe in him."
Mixtitos Kitchen blends Mexican and Japanese-inspired dishes with French cooking techniques.
"This wonderful sandwich her name is Croque monsieur," Jose Luis said of one of his most popular dishes. "All in one bite. It's reflected right there," he said of a grilled sandwich "bathed in bechamel sauce filled with discada meat and Swiss cheese."
Just as they've blended a Mexican and Japanese and American family, he likes to say, cooking up their American dream.
"And the American dream it can be possible if you put yourself in that situation and that position, I think you can achieve anything you need, anything you want, and it's possible here in America."
Members of the Dallas City Council helped him with the official ribbon cutting just last month.
"Oh my gosh. When we cut that ribbon, that was the dream come true. Just right there. It was like an explosion of emotions right there. And it feels so good. It feels so good."
And he admits, he hopes that Mixtitos Kitchen can also help deliver something else.
"My hope when I see this beautiful corner of Dallas," he said of the intersection of Grand and Samuell, "we thought to bring light to this neighborhood. A little light on this side of the corner of Dallas."
"The love and the appreciation and the support from the community, from people like you all, it's been amazing," his sister-in-law Yoshiko Totsuka said. "It fills up my heart and makes me wake up every single day ready to serve them with a smile and the best dishes here at Mixtitos."
So, with his sister-in-law Yoshiko and other members of his family helping get Mixtitos Kitchen up and running, there is belief in a success story brewing at the corner of Samuell and Grand.
"I'm a big believer," Jose Luis said. "So God works in mysterious ways. And he directs you to different people. And now we're here with big expectations and big things we can create and that's amazing. These feelings are outstanding."
And he hopes the food, you will find outstanding too, as an American dream takes shape...one croque monsieur at a time.
"This is a dream job. We are together. We become more stronger," Karina Totsuka said. "Más unidos. Más fuertes!"
"I don't have words to explain how wonderful it feels like. It feels so good," Jose Luis said.