Pepe Ramos grew up in Cuautla, Mexico, a small farm village in the state of Jalisco in Central Mexico where his father owned a grocery store. At age 12, having completed the sixth grade, Pepe had to leave school to help his father run the store so his other siblings would have an opportunity for more schooling. From working with his father, he acquired a foundation of skills—buying, selling, dealing with people, and working hard—which allowed him to build what has ultimately become a large and profitable restaurant company.
With a few pesos in his pocket and unable to speak a word of English, Jose (Pepe) Ramos, arrived in Seattle Washington in 1973 to begin work as a dishwasher in his cousin’s restaurant. Ramos’ father had just died and it was Ramos’ obligation as the eldest of five children to ensure the well being of his mother and his four siblings. For two years he worked a 4 to 11 a.m. shift at Todd Shipyard and then arrived to his second job at the restaurant. From dishwasher to cook to chef, Ramos also worked hard at learning English. After saving $1,000, and with his cousin’s blessing, Ramos opened a small 24 seat restaurant in Burien, a Seattle suburb, in 1974.
Ramos eventually earned the money to bring the rest of his family to the United States. His mother, Camerina, enhanced the restaurant menu with her authentic family recipes. His wife and three brothers, Hector, Jaime and Victor were also put to work helping him open additional restaurants, which they eventually managed with Pepe. With no established financial track record, the Ramos’ were unable to obtain bank loans. Nevertheless, with a lot of hard work and persistence they found new locations for more restaurants and were eventually able to acquire bank financing for more rapid growth.
An example of the true American Dream success story, Ramos was once dubbed by Emmett Watson, former columnist for the Seattle Post Intelligencer, as an Horatio Alger of Seattle – except the “All-American Alger” turns out to be a “red-blooded, honest, God-fearing Mexican.” In a time when most of America searches for family values, the Ramos Family exemplifies a business empire where many key positions are held by family members. So successful is the theme of family loyalty and trust, that all of the mor than 1,400 Azteca employees have become an important part of the Ramos family. Pepe’s recipe for success? Simple: “Offer good dependable food at reasonable prices, and treat your employees well, so they treat customers well!”