Mexican chef's collaboration with West Coast Tacos helps guide Mitchell restaurant's reopening

Sam Fosness, The Daily Republic, Mitchell, S.D.
·5 min read

Apr. 2—After a brief hiatus during the pandemic, West Coast Tacos is back in business. Only this time, they've gained a new partner known as La Catrina.

While Gilbert Luis, owner of West Coast Tacos, was mulling over a decision to reopen his restaurant recently, an unexpected partner came into the mix. Alonso Rubio, a native of Mazatlán, Mexico who has nearly two decades of experience as a chef specializing in California-Mexican style cuisine, approached Luis about partnering together to offer the Mitchell area a much larger menu.

"I've been cooking since I was 15, and I have always wanted to open my own restaurant. This was a great way to start doing that," said Rubio, who collaborated with Luis to form West Coast Tacos / La Catrina, which opened in downtown Mitchell a week ago. "I've been looking for a place for years, and this place was great."

Although Rubio and Luis built their foundation of cooking skills far away from South Dakota, they both chose to open their first restaurant in the state for a reason. With no income tax, cheaper property and low cost of living, South Dakota provided the restaurant owners a business opportunity that many other states couldn't.

"What I have found in this state, the rent is not too high and houses are affordable to buy. And I love to have all the seasons, too," Rubio said.

According to a recent study, South Dakota ranked as the second best state in the country to open a business in 2021. The study published by The Blueprint — a well-known service founded by the financial and investing advice company Motley Fool — analyzed data among all 50 states to produce the results.

The study analyzed the tax climate, labor costs, growth of consumer spending, rate of new entrepreneurs, five-year business survival rate and the impact of natural disasters and climate change. Out of the states that ranked in the top-10, South Dakota scored the highest on its tax climate, which was rated 9.32 on a scale of 1 to 10. The state's business survival rate came in second among the top-10 states as well, with a 7.63 rating.

Considering Luis' home city of Los Angeles, California is located in a state that has some of the highest property prices in the country, he said the low costs of available property in South Dakota helped his decision to open up his first business here.

"It's just so much cheaper than other places in the country to start a business. Property is cheaper, taxes are low," Luis said of Mitchell. "There are a lot of costs and risks that go into opening a business anywhere in the country, so it wasn't as risky to open the restaurant here."

Collaborating to weather through COVID-19

Despite the benefits of opening a business in South Dakota, Luis came up against an unprecedented challenge in his second year of operation: COVID-19. As the virus swept into the Mitchell area roughly a year ago, Luis said business took a "huge hit" early on in the pandemic.

Rather than staying open, trying to stave off the loss in business during the thick of COVID-19, Luis closed down the restaurant for about five months. With the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, Luis listed his 108 N. Main St. building for sale.

Little did Luis know that the listing of his building would attract someone who had over a decade of experience in the restaurant industry. After spending the past decade working as a chef at a Mexican style restaurant in Sioux Falls, Rubio was ready to slowly dive in and try his hand at running a restaurant in Mitchell with the help of Luis.

"We went from $1,300 a day to $300. We just boarded it up and let it ride," Luis said. "This collaboration changed my mind on keeping it closed, because I know how much people love my food and how good Alonso is, and it made us into a full-service restaurant with a big menu. That's what we needed to get back to the way things were going."

The new menu features the same signature items that helped West Coast Tacos become a popular restaurant in the Mitchell area over the past three years, including the fresh carne asada beef tacos and elotes. However, Rubio's signature dishes like the wide variety of flavorful enchiladas and seafood entrees have added over 20 items to the menu.

Their combined culinary expertise has proved to be a hit in Mitchell already. In the first week of opening as West Coast Tacos La Catrina, the restaurant has sold out of food twice

"I love cooking, and I have a different style than typical Mexican restaurants," Rubio said. "I am trying to see what people like before I add more things to the menu."

Although Rubio and Luis have their own unique style of cooking and specialty dishes that can be traced back to their hometown roots, they have found a recipe to collaborate well with each other.

With Rubio leading the kitchen and Luis taking on more duties in the front of house, the two entrepreneurs have big aspirations for their restaurant on Mitchell's Main Street.

"He has some great ideas that people will love, like the wine license he plans to get and make this place a full on restaurant and cantina," Luis said of Rubio. "We work well together, and I am proud to help Alonso (Rubio) with his dream of running a restaurant."