ECC student helps found family business during pandemic

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Lourdes Vazquez Mejia (left) and her mother, Sandra Vazquez (right) pose for a photo between prepping meals for customers at Birreria3rageneracion, the restaurant they run out of their home backyard in Harbor City, on May 2. Photo credit: Jesus “Jesse” Canche Chan

A year ago, everything stopped; school, sports, and restaurants were closed, and people were told to stay at home, However, some were able to find golden opportunities during these unconventional times.

Lourdes Vazquez Mejia, a 19-year-old pre-nursing student at El Camino College, spends hours at a time not only studying for school exams but ensuring that her family business stays afloat.

Like many students at ECC, Mejia did not expect a pandemic to alter the course of their entire year. Between working and studying, the stress of wondering whether family members would become an ill-held weight on Mejia’s shoulders.

“My mother has had a chronic cough which [was] a concern to us at the time,” Mejia said.

Mejia and her mother, Sandra Vazquez, faced challenges during the pandemic, beginning with unemployment followed by schoolwork becoming remote. Nevertheless, these events would lead to the formation of a family business in their backyard.

Mejia worked at Planet Fitness gym before COVID-19, but due to the pandemic, the gym had to close down.

“We started the business because, at the time, the gym closed down. That’s when I decided, ‘why [work] for someone else when you could work for yourself.’ If not now, then when.” Mejia said.

This was the catalyst for Birreria3ragencion, a three-generation family business that specializes in quesadillas, tacos, tortas, consomé and burritos, located in Harbor City. They take orders via phone and direct message on Instagram. They are only available on weekends.

“It was scary because it was risky, but I balanced it because I am very organized. I schedule everything; I was on top of everything. When I had finals in my calculus class, I was working and studying.” Mejia said.

While Mejia was preoccupied with school and work, Vazquez worked hard as a caregiver to provide for her family. For both, starting the family business would lead not only to a great financial opportunity but an opportunity to work together.

“I felt nervous but also emotional because we were going to start a family business. A third-generation business behind our ancestors. Caring for the name and the tradition.” Vazquez said.

Like her daughter, Vazquez knew that starting a family business during a pandemic would be a risk. However, with proper preparation, the pair knew they would overcome difficulties that came their way.

“Without fear and [through] being mentally strong, we could run our business properly: following social distancing guidelines such as wearing masks and keeping tables separate [and] ensuring that our guests and we have a safe environment,” Vazquez said.

Many customers visit Birreria3rageneracion in anticipation of trying the food each weekend. Some of whom have had unique experiences with birreria food. Customers such as Marissa Morado said she was hesitant to give birreria food a try due to previous experiences.

“The reason I didn’t like birreria [was] because it gave me heartburn, but at this location the food was good and there was no heartburn,” Morado said. “I tried torta with cheese, [my] husband got four tacos with cheese because they have different varieties and he also ordered a quesadilla.”

Birreria3rageneracion is gaining popularity and has now accumulated more than one thousand followers on Instagram.

“It may not seem very safe to go to their restaurant because of the current situation. But with guidelines, I do recommend attending,” Morado said.

Mejia hopes to instill the idea that dedication and hard work mixed with discipline lead to success.

“Stay focused be disciplined no matter what. Just plan. And be consistent with what you do.” Mejia said.