Updated: Jul 2, 2020
They say you should live every day to its fullest, and Juan Olvera has made that mantra his life’s mission. After surviving not one but two near-death experiences, he is making the most of the gift each day brings him, and has taken the leap of faith to start up a new restaurant- during a pandemic none-the-less- to ensure he will be pleased with his life’s legacy. This new business venture, an authentic Mexican restaurant called Luna’s Taqueria, is hoping to open later this month, in the space next to the former Mobil gas station in Belgium, Wisconsin.
His life-changing experiences started ten years ago. Olvera, who was born and raised in Mexico until he was seven, was back in Mexico visiting his parents. He was relaxing with some friends in his parents’ yard when several teenage boys, armed with machetes, an AK-47, a 9 mm pistol, and grenades hanging off their hips, stormed the yard. They were members of a cartel, and had mistaken Olvera and his friends for members of a rival cartel. Some of Olvera’s friends escaped, but the teenagers kidnapped Olvera and a few others, handcuffing and blindfolding them and throwing them into an Escalade, where they were beaten and threatened to be killed.
“I just kept thinking of my daughter,” Olvera recollects.
Miraculously, once the Escalade reached its destination, a man (ironically named José Luna) vouched for them that they were not cartel members, but innocent people, and they were released.
Just a year and a half later, Olvera was back in Sheboygan, doing a roofing job. He fell off the second story, landing head-first on an old piece of wood with three nails jutting out of it- narrowly missing the nails. He was rushed to the hospital via Flight for Life. It took 47 staples to close the wound in his head, and he broke his ankle and wrist, but came out of the accident alive.
“I don’t know how I survived,” he marvels. “God was with me.”
Going through that kind of trauma has a way of clarifying your priorities. When Olvera was approached by the building owner back in November about this opportunity to open a restaurant, he jumped on it.
“All the hard work I’ve done has set me up for this and I wasn’t going to let it go,” he said. “This opportunity comes once in a lifetime. It’s like God sent it to me.”
Olvera has been around restaurants his whole life. His father helped a start a restaurant in Mexico from the ground up, and serves as one of Olvera’s inspirations. Olvera’s first job was at KFC, and he has spent most of the time since the accident working as a cook at Chili’s and as a popular server at El Camino, both in Sheboygan.
Luna’s Taqueria is named after Olvera’s mother, Mariana Luna, who passed away, and his baby girl, Luna Mariana, who was born this spring on his birthday (Olvera has a very supportive wife, Calla, and four daughters ages 13, 9, 6, and 6 weeks, and jokes that he hopes the other girls won’t be mad he named the restaurant after her.)
The menu is going to be simple and authentic- Olvera compared it to the best Mexican street tacos you can find. There will be tacos, burritos, and munchies like Botanas, which are hot Cheetos with steak on top and Mexican corn on the side.
His signature item will be Tacos de Trompo- deliciously marinated pork, roasted on a gyro spit, then carefully shaved off onto handmade tortillas and topped with grilled diced pineapple, grilled onions, and cilantro, and served with one of four kinds of homemade salsa.
Olvera promises the food will be good, but what he hopes his restaurant is known for is quality customer service. “You’re not buying the product, you’re buying people’s feelings,” he explains. “If customer service is up to your level, you’re going to feel good about it and want to come back. I’m going to be really picky about the people working in the front of the house,” vows Olvera.
Attached to the restaurant, in the former Mobil gas station, will be arcade games, TVs and occasional entertainment with a Mexican sports bar theme. Bars will be available on both the restaurant side and the arcade side. He also plans to take advantage of the drive-through window (from when the building housed a McDonald’s) for drive-through ice cream for those hot days, and is considering selling late-night pizza after the restaurant closes.
Olvera’s excitement about opening is palpable. He is already arranging for the ribbon cutting ceremony, hopefully happening mid-July.
“I’m ready to open,” he grins.
“After experiencing the things I did in life, I want to live happy and that’s what it’s all about. Happiness and trying to make the best life you can with the circumstances you have. You only get one shot and want to leave good memories. I’m doing this for my girls.”
To stay in the loop on Luna’s Taqueria, you can follow it on Facebook. It will be located at 117 S. Royal Avenue in Belgium.