Los Angeles – He’s made a career out of being the guy you don’t want to mess with in movies such as "Machete,” “Desperado” and "From Dusk till Dawn." But Mexican-American actor Danny Trejo is now sharpening his knives away from the silver screen and taking them into the kitchen.
The 71-year-old actor opened his new Los Angeles restaurant, Trejo’s Tacos, in late March, a job he calls the role of a lifetime.
“This actually wasn’t my plan. My mom was the one who always had a dream of having a restaurant. She was a great cook,” he told Fox News Latino, sitting in the restaurant’s outdoor patio on a typically sunny L.A. afternoon.
“But back in the 50s and 60s, especially in Latino families, it was kind of – the woman stayed at home and took care of the house and the man worked. So every time she would start talking about having a restaurant my dad was like, ‘Why don’t you just cook at home? Take care of la cocina!’”
Fast-forward to 2011 and Trejo’s culinary opportunity finally knocked. But it took a while before he actually got cooking.
“I was filming a movie called ‘Bad Ass’ with producer Ash (Shah) and we realized we were both foodies. We would go out to eat and he always had good food on the set,” the actor said. “So (Shah) said, ‘Danny, you love food, why don’t you open a restaurant?’ Jokingly I said, ‘Trejo’s Tacos’ because tacos are my favorite food in the world. A few years later, we’re filming ‘Bad Ass 3’ and they came to me with a business plan. I took it to my agent and here we are.”
It was a chance not only for Trejo to expand his creative horizons, but to honor his mom, who passed away several years ago.
“My mom’s recipe was just beef, cheese, lettuce, tomato and, of course, a lot of love,” Trejo said. “The thing is, in the film business especially, a lot of times after a film you’ll go out to dinner and inevitably there will be somebody who’s gluten-free, somebody who’s vegan, somebody’s who ‘oh, I can’t eat that.’ I didn’t grow up knowing about these things. ‘Mas manteca!’ is more the way I grew up. There wasn’t any tofu! But at Trejo’s Tacos everyone can find something they can enjoy.”
Finding something to enjoy is a gift Trejo doesn’t take lightly. His hardscrabble history of drug addiction and criminal activity, including many years throughout the 1960s spent behind bars, is a far cry from the life he leads today.
“I didn’t see my life out of prison for a long time. But once you turn your life over to God, the impossible happens all the time. Every day I wake up, it’s a miracle,” he said. “From the time I was about nine to the time I was probably 26 years old, I lost my faith. I just lost it. When I started to take responsibility for my own actions I realized, ‘Wait a minute, I can do this.’ And people helped me along the way. Once people see that you’re sincere about what you want to do, they’re willing to help you.”
In that same spirit, Trejo has staffed the restaurant with employees who, according to his agent Gloria Hinojosa, “need a second chance.”
“This is part of Danny’s outreach and commitment to giving back to the community,” she told FNL.
With a second location of Trejo’s Tacos opening soon and plans for more in the near future, Trejo said he has no intention of slowing down.
“We’re going to try to open five restaurants in Los Angeles and then go from there. I want to be like Colonel Sanders except I’ll have a black goatee and tattoos. More like Colonel Sanchez!” he quipped.
As for his primary day job – acting in movies alongside some of Hollywood’s biggest names – Trejo takes it all in stride and never forgets what mama told him.
“I thank God that I started Hollywood late in life. Hollywood is geared to seduce you into thinking you’re really something; that you’re better than everyone else… But you have to stay humble,” he said. “I remember I did a movie one time with a couple of major stars, I forget who it was, but I remember I went over my mom’s and I was all excited telling her, ‘Mom, I did this and I did that!’ and she was like, ‘I know, mijo, that’s nice. Now take out the trash.’”