For Derek Gonzalez, Pilo’s Street Tacos is so much more than just an ordinary taco shop.
The restauranteur, entrepreneur and father of two, grew up between South Carolina and Mexico City, and his upbringing has truly shaped who he is today.
Derek Gonzalez Founder and Owner of Pilo's
“I spent every summer up there until my senior year” Gonzalez explained, “Pretty much the day after summer started I would be in Mexico for three months, playing soccer and being with my family pretty much my whole entire life.”
Hard work and commitment to an end goal has kept Gonzalez going since he was 13. “My parents could give me everything, but they decided not to, they told me I should earn it. So that was why I started my first business,” as he talked about starting a landscaping business to buy his first pair of soccer shoes. Throughout high school, Gonzalez always worked in restaurants, in awe of the hospitality and service industry. In the workforce, Gonzalez was your typical businessman, working in financial planning and a huge foodie on the side. He always joked about opening up a taco shop when he retired, but Gonzalez didn’t quite stick to that plan and opened the first of Pilo’s Street Tacos in 2017.
Derek Gonzalez and Aunt Pilo
Gonzalez opened Pilo’s Street Tacos with a vision greater than just a taco shop. After flying across the US and Mexico, taste testing different tacos Gonzalez found his niche, “I kind of came up with my own spin in authentic street tacos,” said Gonzalez, combining his upbringing in both the south and Mexico City through the menu. But when opening the restaurant, Gonzalez knew he wanted it to be mission-based. Having grown up with his Aunt Pilo who had down syndrome, Gonzalez couldn’t think of a better way to honor his Aunt, “Let's do something in a space where we can employ people like Pilo because, going back to my childhood, I just remember her being so involved in the Special Olympics and so many other things in Mexico. When you hit a certain age, and you have a quote on quote disability, there are not many options for you.”
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So when Gonzalez first opened his doors in 2017, his goal was not only to serve some of the best authentic tacos in Miami but also to employ people like his Aunt Pilo and make an impact in the community.
Pilo's employee Jorgito
He partners with local and national organizations including Best Buddies, Our Pride Academy and GiGi's Playhouse to find candidates ranging from food runners, table bussers, waiters and managers. “I have some individuals with special abilities and their whole goal is to become a Pilo’s manager and it gives me butterflies and that's really kind of what drives me,” said Gonzalez with such passion in his voice.
Gonzalez is on the mission to be the largest employer of people with special abilities across the country. “If I could open up 1000 Pilo’s and employ 5000 individuals, that’s like my ridiculous goal and if I achieve it, even to a certain degree, I’ve felt like I’ve done my part.”
Spending time at Pilo’s Tacos will not only leave you completely full as you indulge in some of their delicious tacos but also with a smile on your face. The menu features a variety of recipes inspired by Gonzlez’s family background and family recipes as well as some modern takes. When asking Gonzlez what his favorite menu item is he said, “If I had to say recently, our Birria Taco, which is our short rib taco, I mean, we have to sell out every single day probably, people come and stand in line for that!”
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Gonzalez has three Pilo's locations so far and is rapidly growing with new and exciting initiatives. The original, Pilo's Street Tacos is located in Brickell, Pilo’s Tequila Garden is located in Wynwood and Pilo’s Beach Club is located in the Hamptons. In addition to the Pilo’s brand, Gonzalez has an LGBTQ+ bar, Nathan’s Bar in South Beach, and many more ventures in his wheelhouse including another beach club, a frozen margarita concept and hopes to roll out many more outposts across the United States.
When asking Gonzalzez how he would describe himself in one word, he stumbled upon the word, “dreamer” and that he is. His success thus far has made him both a dreamer and achiever and with his drive, motivation, and perseverance, we know Gonzalez is just getting started.
Photography by: Courtesy Pilo's Tacos