On a modest street corner, Lily's Tacos' unremarkable glass doors and blank beige walls did not invite nor enchant. When we entered, the dynamic changed. As I was walking in, I was met with intense and loving hospitality. Jovial Spanish was exchanged between the customer and the cashier, George Gaona (below).
A man with extreme composure and brimming intelligence, Gaona spoke calmly about the ever-evolving success story of Lily's. It all started as a stand where him and his siblings would help their mother cook her food. Initially, "me and my siblings, when we weren't in school, we were there working." Gaona explained, "and that's pretty much been all of our lives".
Gaona initially studied Biology in college, then dabbled in real-estate, but couldn't stay away from the family business. He decided to devote himself to tacos, taking business courses to sharpen his already keen sense of the industry. As of now, he is almost done with his degree.
As the conversation turned to food, Gaona couldn't help but smile. A part of his familial history, these recipes were the same that his mother made when Lily's first opened 24 years ago. Their own traditional values have created the store's success.
Lily's philosophy is simple. It is their own. "If we're not gonna eat it ourselves, we're not gonna sell it," said a now deadpanned Gaona. It seems so fitting that a homey environment follows such empathetic beliefs. The taco-eating world is better for this.
Our table was soon covered with hearty plates of tacos de asada and carnitas with healthy helpings of horchata. We chewed happily as we took a breather from the rigors of the daily cycle and focused on our food and each other's company.
Content that we had enjoyed our meals, George discussed his own passions with us. We chopped it up about soccer, as he and Jack wildly acted out various players' signature moves. We reenacted a scene from Good Will Hunting. The one when Leonardo DiCaprio says, "do you like apples?" Tearing with laughter, we shook hands and left.
During the drive back to campus, I really came to appreciate how easy Gaona talked about his life. He was as generous with his past as he was with his gentle spirit. Undoubtably, I will be back for the tacos, but what made that experience special, was our time with him.
Taken by Victoria Flores Najas.