With more than 300 film and television roles to his credit, Danny Trejo is not only one of Hollywood’s most prolific actors but also one of the most recognizable. From blockbusters like Desperado and From Dusk Till Dawn to Spy Kids, Trejo is still working and last year’s credits include Rick and Morty, Family Guy, and Hell’s Kitchen. In fact, how many other actors have appeared in music videos by Slayer, Enrique Iglesias, Train, and the Jonas Brothers?
Seeking success beyond the acting world, Trejo aggressively moved into the food world last year. Trejo’s Tacos was the first to open last year, as located on South La Brea Avenue. Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts followed shortly after, as did Trejo’s Cantina; a second Cantina location last month in Pasadena. In addition, a Trejo’s Truck is roaming around Los Angeles while Trejo’s Tacos has a variety of swag (e.g. t-shirts, hot sauce, coffee) available for to take home.
To learn more about Danny Trejo and why he has entered the food world, I spoke with him and business partners Jeff Georgino and Ash Shah.
The Daily Meal: Jeff, how did you and Ash wind up in the hospitality world?
Jeff Georgino: We were both in careers that we weren’t mentally invested in anymore. We both loved food and were ready to make a career change.
How did you first encounter Danny?
Ash Shah: Through making movies together. We were already exploring ideas in the hospitality world and then Danny just made it clear what we needed to do.
Where did the idea to get into the restaurant business come from?
Danny Trejo: Actually, the idea was born a long time ago. My mom was just an unbelievable cook. She always liked to put really good meals together, and I loved food. I was doing a movie called Bad Ass, and the producers were Ash and Jeff and the director was a guy named Craig Moss. Craig and I would go to restaurants, and he said, “Danny, why don’t you open a restaurant?” Jokingly, I said, “Trejo’s Tacos.” That is what me and my mom used to say to make my dad laugh.
After I told Ash about Trejo’s Tacos, we did Bad Ass, then we did Bad Ass 2, then we did Bad Asses on the Bayou, and on the third one he came at me with a business plan. He said, “Danny, I’ve got this business plan I want you to look over.” I looked at it and I gave it to Gloria Hinojosa, my agent, and the people who do my stuff for me. They said, “You can’t lose it. It is a good one.” It is the first time somebody’s got a business plan and doesn’t want a hundred thousand bucks, you know?
So we started Trejo’s Tacos on La Brea, and it is unbelievable. People just kept showing up and I would sign autographs. The food is delicious. We have a vegan menu and a gluten-free menu and everything else.
Next, we opened up Trejo’s Cantina and that was amazing. It was right on Selma in Hollywood and that was just unbelievable because the Hollywood crowd starting going there. A lot of celebrities think they can just hang their names [on a restaurant] and it would be a hit. I dare say it worked for some, but for me, it depends on the food. You know, the food got good.
What I do all the time is take about five friends once every two weeks and everybody orders what they want. Now that we got three restaurants, we’re all well-fed, but it is all healthy food so nobody is gaining weight.
I hear that some of the recipes actually come from your family, Danny…
Trejo: Well, yeah… Latinos, we have such a problem with obesity because of the way we eat. So the cooks got together and started trying to make the food taste the way that my mom’s did. My daughter-in-law makes this potato salad out of cauliflower that tastes exactly like potato salad, so we started trying to do stuff like that. The taste isn’t the original taste but it doesn’t have the -- I don’t want to say “bad food” -- ingredients that are starchy or carbohydrates.
Do you have a favorite item on the Trejo’s Tacos menu?
Trejo: You know what? I love the brisket because they do the brisket like my mom did. But it is all good, I have eaten everything there. (laughs)
Georgino: The jackfruit taco. It’s unexpected but the texture and flavor are just really good.
What about on the menu of Trejo’s Coffee & Donuts?
Shah: The Nacho Donut. It makes the most incredible fried egg breakfast sandwich. You have to add a dash of Trejo’s Hot Sauce to it.
It’s been put out there that you are looking to turn the Trejo restaurant brand into a $100 million empire. Any idea how many locations would have to be opened in order for that to happen?
Georgino: Buyers and sellers set a valuation. We are in investment and growth mode and are taking an aggressive but measured approach. We are not a seller and really haven’t done the math to guess how many locations or what the company is valued at or will be valued at down the road. Right now it’s about keeping the beer cold and the tacos hot.
When I visited Trejo’s Tacos earlier this month, I was impressed with the merchandise selection available. Are there plans to expand on that? To get the coffee and hot sauce products into stores?
Shah: Yes, we are working on a plan to get our products into more retail outlets. Currently we have a handful of independent gourmet grocery stores carrying our hot sauce. We need to scale up our production capacity before we can really go on a wider distribution basis.
When not busy with the restaurants, how do you like to spend your free time?
Georgino: Ash and I both have young families so when we are not working it’s really spending as much time with them as we can.
Trejo: First of all, I love hanging out with my guys, my son Danny Boy, my son Gilbert, my daughter, I love hanging out with them.
This interview was lightly edited for clarity, but there are plenty of other places in Los Angeles to spot your favorite celebrities.