KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — It takes a lot of courage to come to a new country and put down roots. For many Latino or Hispanic immigrants, their food, culture, and entrepreneurial spirit have paved the way to many restaurants we enjoy in East Tennessee and across the country.

One owner of a Knoxville restaurant group says his family recipes have brought him much success. A trip to East Tennessee changed everything for Javier Zendejas 14 years ago.

“We liked it here, and we saw the potential. The people in Tennessee like Mexican food. They love it here,” said Zendejas.

He immigrated to the area and has built a brand of well-loved Mexican food restaurants.

“Our family has Casa Don Gallo in Rocky Hill, Don Gallo in Hardin Valley, another Don Gallo in Choto by the lake, and this store is a new shop. It’s a taco shop,” said Zendejas.

Zalate Taqueria in North Knox County is the new spot on Stekoia Lane.

“A different concept. It’s more like authentic street food in Mexico. It’s just tacos — tacos and tequila basically,” he laughs.

More than just a taste of Mexico, but a taste of home, like grandma used to make.

“Like your grandmother teaches you how to cook, how to make beans, how to make rice. That’s basically what we try to do.”

Zendejas bringing those family recipes to the tables in their restaurants, and customers love every bite.

“Oh, my goodness, the food is incredible. It’s fresh, very fresh Mex[ican]. We love it. I come in here at least three times a week,” says loyal customer Catrina Beck.

For the Zendejas family, getting to know their customers is a special part of the business.

“For us, it’s like pride to talk about our culture. to know that we are good people and we love it here… You know, if you keep it real, people like it. You make that connection with food, you know?”

Connections with every bite.

There are nearly 50,000 thousand Mexican restaurant businesses in the United States in 2021. An increase of about 3% from 2020 according to IBISWorld. Watch this story and more in our 2021 Hispanic Heritage Special, here.