Pepe Barajas, chef/owner of La Josie, a new upscale Mexican restaurant in the West Loop, was practically born in to the hospitality game.
As a little kid in the ’80s, he was popping the tops off Jarritos and Coke for patrons at his grandfather’s Mexico City taco stand. When he was 7, he immigrated to Chicago and watched his single mother waitress for her brother, founder of the local Los Comales chain of restaurants. Seeing her struggle financially, Barajas dropped out of high school and helped his mom open her own taqueria, Los Comales No. 8.
He completed his GED and committed to learning everything about operating a restaurant and read every Mexican cookbook he could get his hands on. In 2007, he opened up a spot near Midway called El Solazo. His Mexican heritage wasn’t an issue, but location was a problem for his first restaurant—it was near a glut of pedestrian and mediocre spots.
“I remember going out and giving food to local businesses and as I was walking out of one place, I heard the guy say, ‘Oh, great, another Mexican restaurant here on Pulaski,’” he said. “I didn’t say it to him, but what I remember thinking was, ‘We’re not just another Mexican restaurant. We’re not gonna stay where we start. We’re always gonna drive to be better.’”