Faces of Family Business: Fiesta Fresh
How Fiesta Fresh, one of Hilton Head’s original Mexican restaurants, has operated as a family business for over 20 years.
By Hannah Massen
You could call it a Mexican joint with the “best tacos in town.” You could call it a Hilton Head institution. But more than anything, Fiesta Fresh Mexican Grill is a family affair.
Liz Diaz and her two sisters practically grew up in her parents’ (Andres and Maria Diaz) south Hilton Head Mexican restaurant. Starting at about age 12, the sisters would spend afternoons and weekends helping their parents around the restaurant, but they “officially” started working shifts at age 14. Although Liz’s youngest sister, Vanessa, moved to Jacksonville, Florida, recently Liz and her sister, Ariana, still work at the restaurant full time, helping to keep their parents’ business alive.
Fiesta Fresh began as a partnership between Andres, Maria and a few of their long-time family friends over 20 years ago. There were few Spanish restaurants in the Lowcountry at the time, and soon after moving to Hilton Head, the friends began dreaming of opening a restaurant inspired by Mexico’s Jalisco region where they are from.
The original Fiesta Fresh location opened in 2000 and was an instant success – so much so that Andres and Maria helped to open two other restaurant locations, one on the North end of Hilton Head and the other in Bluffton. However, the Diazes and their business partners decided to disband in 2003 to run each restaurant separately, leaving Andres and Maria with sole ownership of the original Fiesta Fresh location on New Orleans Road.
Almost 23 years later Lowcountry locals and visitors alike still frequent the “fast casual” restaurant for its soft- and hard-shell tacos, “Fiesta Nachos” and indulgent burrito plates. Liz wears a few different hats during her shifts to keep the restaurant running on busy days, which is most of the time. She works the register, serves food, places merchandise orders, helps with bookkeeping and does catering runs – sometimes all within a single day.
“The best part about working together is that we can always trust and know that everything will run smoothly when one of us isn’t able to be there,” Liz said. “The not-so-great part about working together is that when a family emergency occurs, we are forced to close the restaurant.”
Every member of the Diaz family plays a critical role in running the restaurant, which is why each of them gets a vote on important business decisions during their “family meetings” at home. According to Liz, her siblings and parents are open to hearing each other’s business ideas and concerns – including those about her father’s lack of time off.
“My father has been working in the industry since we opened, and for several years he’s worked 12-plus hours a day for seven days a week,” Liz said. “We finally convinced him to start closing on Sundays to have some much-needed family time together and so he could finally get some rest.”
After she graduated cum laude from the University of South Carolina Beaufort in 2016 with degrees in business management and accounting, Liz’s role in the restaurant has been slowly increasing. For the past few years she’s been shadowing her parents to learn their opening, prep, paperwork and inventory process. She has all but memorized the family recipes for the salsas, dressings, marinades, aguas frescas, flans and sauces served at Fiesta Fresh.
While Liz is sure that her parents will continue to provide guidance after they retire, Andres and Maria are planning to take a step back from the restaurant within the next six to 10 years and allow Liz to fill their roles.
“I have been preparing for this basically my whole life, as it has always been in the plans for one or all of us daughters to take over,” Liz said. “We want to try to keep the restaurant going in the family for as long as possible. We believe that is a reason why we have been blessed with such success.”
Tips for success as a family-run restaurant:
1. Be patient. It is very important to be patient in the workplace, especially when family is involved. There are always going to be mistakes made in any business and sometimes that can be stressful. Everyone has to learn to remain calm, especially when working under pressure.
2. Communicate. Communication is another key factor. As a family you have to respect one another and always communicate any issues you have. It is equally important to listen to each other’s concerns, thoughts and ideas.
3. Maintain a work/life balance. Sometimes when you’re having a bad day at work or at home, it is really easy to get mad at one another. You always have to remember not to let home problems affect your work life and vice versa. Sometimes you just have to take a moment to cool yourself down and breathe.