Someburros: Built on family pride

By Doug Snover

George Vasquez’s pride and enthusiasm are beginning to sizzle as he watches his son, Tim, coordinate last-minute preparations for the grand opening of the newest Someburros restaurant. George’s father, Eusevio “Poncho” Vasquez, walks through the front door, making it three generations of the Vasquez family on hand to get the job done.

Steady rain might be slowing progress outside, but things inside move quickly. Business isn’t baseball. There will be no rainout. The family planned to open this, its third Someburros restaurant, on Wednesday, August 8, at 3461 W. Frye Road, just south of the Chandler Fashion Center.

There are less than 48 hours left. The bottom of the ninth inning, in baseball terms.

George Vasquez knows baseball, almost as well as he knows the restaurant business. Which he knows almost as well as he knows about family. He played professional baseball for about six years, starting in the Houston Astros farm system and reaching the AAA level as a catcher with the Milwaukee Brewers organization but never quite making it into the major leagues.

His career peaked with two spring training games for the Brewers. Soon afterward, he retired from baseball and went into the family’s restaurant business.

“I think really at the time you just get realistic,” he explained.

George watches his son with the same pride he felt when Tim, now 29, was a pitcher for Corona del Sol High School’s championship baseball team in 1993 and then at Arizona State University.

The sense of pride that he feels watching his son perform today is “very similar” to the pride he felt watching Tim pitch, George says.

“Very similar. One of the attributes that I think characterizes Tim is that when he was pitching he seemed to have good control of where he was. He could make the pitch he needed to make at the time he needed to make it. And here he’s a very good organizer and a very good people person.”

“He likes it that way. I think he likes enlisting the help of everybody else to be a part of it. We’ve been very fortunate over the years to have a big nucleus of people that have been with us for years. They help you run your business. They’re a team. There’s no doubt it. The nice thing about it is just like when he was on that pitcher’s mound, he’s the one who could make a difference. And here, he’s the one that can really make the difference.”

George Vasquez grew up in South Phoenix, always athletic, playing football, basketball and baseball. After games, many of his teammates would come home with him because they knew George’s mother, Isabel, would have something good to eat.

“We grew up all our lives in South Phoenix. The guys would just come over and mom would usually have that black skillet and beans on the stove. Our friends would come over and eat. For years and years, the talk was why don’t we open a little taco stand.”

In 1972, they did, converting a hamburger shack on Central Avenue and calling it “Poncho’s.” George and his older brother, Ralph, invested their money in the business. Their mother, Isabel, and aunt, Socorro Valle, provided recipes. They named the place after their father, whose nickname was “Poncho.”

Some three decades, “Poncho’s” remains a family-owned business. Isabel Vasquez passed away, but “Poncho”, Ralph, George and his wife, Mary, and their children – Tim, Amy and Jennilyn – all are restaurateurs.

From 1978 until 1985, the family operated a full-service Mexican restaurant called Juantanameras on Baseline Road near the Pointe Resort. In 1986, the Vasquez family opened its first Someburros restaurant at Baseline Road and Mill Avenue in Tempe. The goal was to take the family recipes and create a casual, limited-menu restaurant that was heavy on take-out service.

Again, baseball played a minor role. Tim was playing Little League baseball at the time, and the family often went out to eat after his games.

“All of our friends that we hung out with and their kids, we just said we are we going. We thought it would just be good to be able to walk in, something casual, gets some chips and a good burro, a taco or an enchilada,” George said.“ Sometimes when you have kids, it can be a big ordeal going to a restaurant.”

Tim Vasquez grew up in the family business. He cheerfully admits that back in his high school days, he put on a donkey costume and stood outside the Tempe Someburros to attract customers.

His younger sisters, Amy, now 28, and Jennilyn, now 25, also have moved up through the ranks in the family business, although neither started in the donkey suit, according to Tim. Amy, an ASU graduate, will manage the Chandler Someburros. Jennilyn attended college in San Diego but came home to Tempe to manage the Gilbert Someburros, which opened in 2002.

“It’s awesome. Unbelievable,” father George said of having three children working in the family business.

“All three of them work hard and they work smart,” he said. “There are no scholarships here.”