Go With the Loco Flow
By Ty Tilden
Jose Valdivia believes strongly that “life is the best schooling you can get.” Valdivia embarked on a new culinary journey by acquiring the beloved Mexican restaurant, El Burro Loco, earlier last month. Valdivia’s lifelong love for learning and experiencing new things is evident in his transition from operating a food cart to managing a full-fledged restaurant.
Valdivia’s culinary story began when he was laid off from a construction job in McMinnville at the tail end of the pandemic. With limited job opportunities and no formal college education, Valdivia decided to take a leap of faith and open a food cart. After consulting with local cart owners in McMinnville, he found a manufacturer based in Texas and opened his business in June of last year.
With his wife Maria’s cooking skills and his passion for learning, the food cart became a fast favorite. Though an initial success story, Valdivia was hit with yet another unexpected turn of events. “Everything was going great, but [on] November 23, it caught on fire. It was a total loss,” he said. Luckily, with his insurance coverage, Valdivia was able to get a newer cart manufactured, this time with state-of-the-art fire suppression systems.
Not long after the newer cart picked up business, the previous owners of El Burro Loco approached Valdivia with an unexpected proposal to purchase their restaurant. Initially taken aback by the proposition, Valdivia quickly realized the potential the restaurant possessed. After carefully evaluating the opportunity, he decided to take the plunge and become the new proprietor.
The pressure faced by a restaurateur is different from that of a food cart owner, something Valdivia picked up on quickly. “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what to do. A food cart is a totally different ball game than a restaurant,” he said.
Valdivia wasted no time immersing himself in the restaurant business. Although he initially felt a sense of uncertainty, he quickly adapted to the new environment. Learning from the existing staff, he observed the intricate details of food preparation and service methods, slowly gaining confidence in his role. “I went back to the line and they told me I wasn’t a cook. I didn’t say anything; I just go with the flow. I started watching how they serve and everything. And today, one of my cooks called in sick. I said ‘holy cow’ and my stress level started rising. My buddy told me I need to relax so I can be focused. So I started serving [food] to see how it goes, and I got this, now I’m comfortable,” Valdivia said. With his characteristic enthusiasm, Valdivia threw himself into his new venture, eager to bring his unique touch to El Burro Loco. He plans to keep the menu the same but update the recipes to bring a more authentic flavor to his dishes. Valdivia prides himself on delivering “home-cooked” meals that depart from the commercialized versions found elsewhere.
“When I talk to customers, I tell them ‘don’t be afraid to tell us if something’s wrong.’” I want to know if something’s missing,” Valdivia explained, noting how important the mountain community’s feedback is to his business.
When asked about his plans for the future, Valdivia’s eyes light up with ambition. While he remains tight-lipped about the specifics, he hints at an innovative concept that will revolutionize the local restaurant scene. His vision includes a dedicated piece of land and a custom-built establishment that will facilitate a unique dining experience centered around authentic Mexican cuisine, cooked over open fires and prepared with meticulous attention to detail.
Valdivia’s commitment to the community extends beyond the restaurant walls. He actively seeks ways to give back, such as sponsoring local athletes. Valdivia’s genuine passion for serving others shines through as he strives to make a positive impact on the lives of those around him.
Valdivia’s journey has only just begun. As he refines his recipes, welcomes customer feedback, and looks toward the future, one thing remains certain — his unwavering dedication to learning, trying out new ventures and giving back to the community is in his blood.
El Burro Loco is located at 67211 E Hwy 26 in Welches. For information and reservations, the restaurant can be reached at (503) 622-6780 and their menu is online at elburrolocolaestrella.squarespace.com.