In the early 2000s, Don Cuervo owners Jacob and Juanita Lopez moved to Greenwood from a small town in central Mexico near the capital city. For years, they worked in the restaurant industry. At home, Juanita always made sure they had a home cooked meal on the table while hoping for a restaurant of her own one day. As their three children — Enrique, Jessica, and Jason — grew up and began leaving the nest, the couple prepared themselves for the transition and planned for a business to keep them busy. In August of 2016, an exciting opportunity presented itself to embark on a venture of their own. They opened Don Cuervo Fresh Made Mexican. That was seven years ago, and they’ve never looked back.
“It’s a tough industry with long hours, but it was a chance we wanted to take as a family,” Jacob says. “The food, the recipes, and sharing our culture with the community has been really rewarding in a lot of ways.”
In 2020, Jacob and Juanita opened a second restaurant, Tacos & Brews, which has more of a niche taqueria concept with an emphasis on regional cuisine. At both restaurants they source the highest-quality ingredients, and create authentic, traditional recipes that the Lopez family grew up on.
“At Tacos & Brews we offer cuts of meats you may not find in an everyday Mexican restaurant,” says Jessica, General Manager of Tacos & Brews.
One of their most popular dishes is birria tacos, with slow-cooked, savory shredded beef, as well as pickled red onion, cilantro, and soft, handmade corn tortilla shells.
“The lure of that dish is the consomméé, which is a broth that’s made with a base similar to gravy,” Jacob says. “They’re meant to be dipping tacos.”
In addition to the meat that’s cooked and spiced in a very specific way, the birria tacos have Mexican melted cheese in between the two shells. They first introduced the birria tacos at Tacos & Brews. The idea was to sell the kind of tacos that Jacob and Juanita grew up eating in Mexico, which are different from what you normally find here in the U.S.
“You can find traditional Mexican tacos with corn tortillas, but in order to get the closer Mexican experience and get tacos with specialized meats, you often have to drive far into town to some hidden place,” Jacob says. “We introduce those here, on the Southside in a casual, family-friendly environment. For instance, lengua is braised beef tongue, slow cooked. It’s unfamiliar to many palates, but is delicious.”
At Don Cuervo, guests love steak, chicken and shrimp fajitas, as well as arroz con pollo.
“You really can’t go wrong with a classic of chicken, white queso, and rice,” Jessica says.
Another top seller is the burrito al pastor, which is marinated pork meat with a savory tart pineapple marinade, covered in cheese and green sauce.
“It’s the most indicative dish of Mexico City,” Jessica says.
At Tacos & Brews, guests choose their individual à la carte tacos with their own basket of different meats they want to try.
“It’s closer to the experience of if you traveled to Mexico,” Jessica says.
Mahi tacos sell well, as do veggie tacos with fresh zucchini, cheese and pico de gallo. While these are customer favorites, they offer a broad range of items on both of their menus.
“There’s something for everyone,” Jessica says. “Our staff is always willing to find something that will suit you. We do a lot of customizations and modifications based on allergies and preferences.”
Many guests come in several times per week and always have their go-to.
“We’ll start prepping the dish or drink we know you tend to favor, but we’ll also always check to make sure that’s what you want to stick with for the day,” Jessica says.
It truly is a family affair, as all three of the Lopez children now serve an integral role in Don Cuervo and Tacos & Brews. Enrique is the Head Manager at Don Cuervo who oversees operations across the restaurant groups. He’s also a skydiver on his off days. Juanita and Jason are the foodies who formulate and test the recipes, and perfect the sauces. Jason, who is currently in the process of getting a hospitality degree at college, works part time at both establishments. Jacob, Jessica and Enrique handle the administrative duties including paperwork, staffing and marketing. Jessica is pursuing an additional business administration degree, but will continue working full time at the restaurants. Owners Jacob and Juanita, married for more than 30 years, are still best friends.
“They’re the reason we’re here,” Jessica says. “We’re all present in the day-to-day kitchen prep. It’s a rare day that a guest walks in and doesn’t find one of the five of us here.”
Over the past seven years, the Lopez family members have watched other local families grow and flourish.
“It’s rewarding to see so many familiar faces and satisfied people,” Jacob says. “It’s even more rewarding when you get to do that while facing daily challenges.”
No doubt restaurants have had their share of challenges in recent years, with the global pandemic, labor shortages, price increases and supply-chain issues.
“Running a restaurant is an intimidating endeavor, but we’re doing what we love to do,” Jacob says. “If that love wasn’t there, it would be easy to find an excuse to quit. We’ve gotten to know a lot of great people and we get to meet new people every day.”
The entire family is incredibly grateful to the Center Grove community for their unwavering support and loyalty through the years. They’ve helped people with the food that colors the backdrop of graduations, weddings, anniversaries and all the great celebratory stages of life.
“Being in the restaurant business, we’re privileged to witness all of those milestones in people’s lives,” Juanita says. “We’re pleased to be a constant in this ever-changing world. We’re happy they choose to eat our food and experience our culture, and we’re humbled to be invited along for these special moments.”
Tacos & Brews is located at 3113 West Smith Valley Road in Greenwood. For more information, call 317-300-9168 or visit doncuervotacos.com.
Don Cuervo Fresh Made Mexican is located at 4800 West Smith Valley Road in Greenwood. For more information, call 317-360-6558 or visit doncuervo.com.