Castro graduated early from high school, then a week later enrolled at the Western Culinary Institute in Portland. After the 18-month course in restaurant management came to a close, his first job was running his uncle’s restaurant in Renton, WA.
“I was probably 19,” Castro said. “Barely. And I was running the restaurant. Pretty much every day I would go home and say to myself, ‘I know I can do this.’ It was just a matter of waiting for my opportunity.”
An opportunity that always seemed just out of reach.
“I’d go look at properties, try to sign a lease, but nobody would touch me,” Castro said. “I was a hotshot 21-year-old and thought I had all the means to get a restaurant. I got humbled pretty quick.”
Castro finally had his chance after a conversation with his dad.
“I ended up getting a phone call from my Dad saying he just got a call from a guy that really needs to get out of a restaurant in Longview. At that time I was desperate, so I drove out there.”
There was a reason the owner wanted out – he hadn’t paid the rent in eight months. It was just the situation Castro needed to get his foot in the restaurant business door.
“A long story short, I ended up opening there when I was 22,” Castro said. “She was the only landlord that would listen to me, and the only reason she did was because the previous guy was behind on rent. I went into a business that was failing, was in need of something.”
Any new restaurant needs a little bit of luck in those first few months to be successful. Unfortunately for Castro, the luck was all bad. Guadalajara Grill & Cantina opened in March of 2008, and that winter saw a large snowstorm and floods that affected the whole area.
“In the first six months, I almost folded probably two or three times,” Castro said. “We put sandbags around, so the restaurant was fine. But the business suffered because nobody could make it in. Nobody. Those were some scary, scary times. I didn’t even have enough silverware for the customers. We were just trying to survive month to month.”
Survive they did. According to Castro, Guadalajara Grill & Cantina became one of the top three staple restaurants in Longview after two years. Instead of struggling to keep the doors open, he struggled with growing pains. Even with the success, Castro was still worried.
“I wanted to take a vacation, even a small vacation, but I would always be scared because I was so involved with the restaurant,” Castro said. “I hadn’t been on a plane until I was 25 years old. I went to Cancun, and after that, I make sure to take my breaks.”
In 2012, Castro opened Jorge’s Margarita Factory in Cascade Park, followed by his downtown Vancouver and Battle Ground restaurants. The opening of Jorge’s Margarita Factory in Hazel Dell marks almost 10 years to the day of the opening of his first restaurant. This location is unique because Castro built it from the ground up – the other locations had all moved into existing spaces.
“My first four restaurants were already restaurants that I took over and remodeled,” Castro said. “I thought I knew it all. This is the first one that we built out of nothing. Electrical, plumbing, everything. So once again, I was humbled really fast.”
The one consistency in all of his restaurants has been his family. As an eight-year-old, Castro ran chips and salsa to customers at the restaurant owned by his parents, Jose and Maria Castro. In Longview, Jose helped with the cooking duties, and even now his parents still pitch in and help when needed.
His sister, Betty Cantu, is co-owner of the newest endeavor and has been a constant in all five of his restaurants. From day one, Cantu has been responsible for much of the day-to-day operations, allowing Castro to concentrate on the business side of things.
“My dad and mom have kind of stepped down from the restaurants,” Castro said. “But my dad still comes in and cooks for three or four hours. They’ll run to the store for us, anything they can do to help. The most influential person for my restaurants is my dad. He held my hand for a long time.”
Grand Opening Weekend
Thursday, March 15th: Ladies Night - Ladies Drink Half Off (limited menu only)
Friday, March 16th: Live Mariachi Band and Painting by Mayfair. Happy Hour All Day!
Saturday, March 17th: DJ SOSA from 4-9 p.m., Half Price Fajitas for Two
Sunday, March 18th: Grand Opening Day! Balloon Artist and Face Painting for kids and kids eat free (1 kid meal per 1 adult entrée)
Jorge’s Margarita Factory - Hazel Dell
8902 NE 5th Ave Suite 101
Vancouver, WA 98665
That influence can be seen in the menu. His parents are from Guadalajara, the second largest city in Mexico and, as far as Castro is concerned, a top international destination for cuisine.
“It has to be in the top ten,” Castro said. “It’s very modernized. People think of authentic Mexican food as a street taco wrapped in foil from a taco truck. Which it can be, but there’s a lot of really cool, unique stuff there. The base for all of my recipes comes from my dad.”
Not that he doesn’t tweak the ingredients a little when the situation calls for it. In Longview, everything stayed the same. In Vancouver, though, his customers like to be a little more adventurous.
“Longview is a city that doesn’t like to see changes,” Castro said. “They come in and want what they already know. If I wanted to play around with a special or whatever, nobody ordered it. In Vancouver, they want everything that’s fresh, gluten-free, certain diets, and jalapeno margaritas. You have to be able to evolve.”
While the food may bring the customers in, Castro believes his staff sets his restaurants apart.
“It’s our service and our atmosphere,” Castro said. “We have great food, but so do a lot of restaurants. I do think we’re near the top when it comes to Mexican food quality. But my sister and I, the thing that we train our people to do, is the service. Once (customers) are through the door, they’re here to like you. It’s you they come back for. If for whatever reason something goes wrong with their experience and it’s handled right by our staff, we have a lifelong customer.”
From Medford, to Renton, to Longview, to Vancouver, the road to restaurant success has been long for Castro. With snow storms, flooding, and years of work with little to no time off, it hasn’t been an easy road, either. But for Castro, getting into the business was an easy decision.
“It’s the best thing I ever did.”
Blending authentic Mexican cuisine with superior service and warm atmosphere, Jorge’s Margarita Factory in Hazel Dell is the fifth restaurant for Jorge Castro.