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The Student News Site of Buena Vista University

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Taking it one taco at a time


Grace Wilkinson | Contributing Writer

She finishes whispering under her breath, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” In the stillness of the car you can hear her rosary beads swinging and clinking as she lets them go and takes a deep breath. She prayed thanking God for all he has given her and asked for both patience and guidance during her upcoming shift. She has found her center. She has focused herself. And now, Buena Vista University senior Jasmine Bautista is ready begin her shift at Taqueria La Juanita’s.

Bautista works every Saturday and Sunday night at what most call La Jua’s. She begins her shift with a quick meditation and continues into the restaurant to begin her 6 p.m.- 2 a.m., 3 a.m., and sometimes even 4 a.m. shift. She says the later hours don’t bother her though because helping others through food has been a strong value in her family for many years.

“We just like to help others the best way we know, and that’s through food,” Bautista said.

Bautista was born in 1994, in Bell, Calif., to a family where food was everything. She remembers waking up to the smell of crispy bacon and fried eggs. Food is what united all members of her family, whether it be all her aunts and uncles coming over for Sunday dinner, or having a casual grill out. It was her grandma who created the love of food among her parents, aunts, uncles, and eventually for her and her siblings.

Before she could even see over the counter, Bautista was helping her grandma cook. She used to reach her hand up and over the counter searching for anything within arm’s reach to grab and “help” cook with.

It was Jasmine’s grandmother who started the La Juanita’s business. After moving from Mexico, she bought a food truck and drove with her eldest daughter around the streets of downtown Los Angeles during the lunch hours selling burritos and tacos. People quickly fell in love with her homemade and authentic food. Business grew so rapidly that one truck turned into two, and two turned into three.

Bautista was just four-years-old when she moved from California to South Sioux City, Nebraska. Her family all lived on the same block and on part of the next. It was hot that day, but not the beautiful 75 degrees and sunny type of hot. It was the type of hot where you weren’t sure if your forehead was sweating or you were crying. It was the type of hot where you could see the palm trees start to droop from the weight of the heat.

The U-Haul pulled up in front of her house. It was the biggest truck she had ever seen. As her family packed the boxes into the truck, Bautista tried to help, but it got to the point where the stacks of boxes were taller than she was.

“I remember leaving that morning. I was excited until I was forced to sit in the middle of the back seat for the whole ride without air conditioning. I cried so much because I was so hot,” she said.

Eight years later, Bautista’s family has been blessed with not one, but two successful restaurants serving her grandmother’s recipes. Although the restaurants may share a name, they have a very different client base. Storm Lake’s location is dominated by BVU students and visiting family members.

BVU senior Alicia Savoy says that it isn’t just the food but also the atmosphere that Bautista and her coworkers create that draws her to La Jua’s.

“I love Taco Bell and other Mexican restaurants, but La Jua’s is just so much more. It’s probably the best authentic Mexican I’ve ever tasted. I go anywhere from 2-3 times a week. Jazz (Jasmine) knows my order, so I guess you can say I’m a regular and I’m not ashamed,” Savoy said.

Savoy isn’t the only one who feels this way. Bautista says she experiences a tremendous amount of BVU students who walk through her doors during her Saturday and Sunday night shifts.

Bautista begins her shift with her daily prayer and a quick meditation to help get her in the right mindset to work in customer service. After taking special care to say every word with heart and meaning, she crosses the threshold that divides her from the next nine hours of work.

The night runs smoothly with a few families and a few stragglers. A couple visiting from Texas decided to stop in and try the famous La Juanita’s. The man got a beef and cheese burrito, one of their most popular burritos. The woman decided to order three soft shell chicken tacos with freshly diced tomatoes and fresh cut avocado. They were topped with a pinch of cheese and a dash of homemade salsa.

Before Bautista knows it, it’s almost taco time. At 1 a.m. La Jua’s no longer serves the full menu, only tacos. At midnight, they begin to prep everything for the ambush coming their way in just two hours. The fryers have been shut off; the large tortillas are put away; the veggies packaged and placed in the massive silver refrigerator. The evening chores are done and now all there is left to do is wait.

One o’clock comes and goes. Bautista keeps looking at the clock, watching each second slowly tick away. Tick. Tock. She focuses herself. Tick. Tock. She whispers another quiet prayer. Tick. Tock. The eerie silence drags on. Tick. Tock. Then she hears them.

She can hear the drunken screams, squeals, and laughter of the first few BVU students dripping into the store. She can hear them before she can see them, and she is ready. She takes the first group’s order and has them wait.

The next group comes in acting even louder than the first. From this point on there is no more peace, but instead her peace has been replaced with drunken, babbling college-aged kids. Not everyone who walks in her doors is drunk though. She sees a fair amount of awkward feeling individuals who are definitely not on the same level as everyone else. These are the designated drivers. They are usually really polite and try to help control the chaos.

Bautista says there are four main types of drunk college kids she sees every Saturday. The crazy newly 21-year-olds, the sassy drunks, the paranoid ones and the overly happy ones who just want to help. Jasmine prefers the last group. She appreciates everyone who comes into the store, but the friendly drunks who just want to help are her favorite.

Sometimes the smell of alcohol is so strong coming off their breath and clothes that Jasmine feels her family restaurant has turned in a bar. Once she smells it, she can’t seem to get the potent smell of alcohol out of her nose, and she isn’t sure if that’s because it smells absolutely awful, or if it’s because the people don’t seem to stop coming through the door. It is roughly 2:30 a.m., and the line is now outside the doors and onto the sidewalks. Bautista knows she won’t be getting home anytime soon.

Even though the store is supposed to close at 2 a.m., the last customer doesn’t leave until close to 3 a.m. Once everyone is out, she locks the front door and begins her chores and prep-work for Sunday’s morning shift.

Finally, back in her car, Jasmine sits down for the first time in five hours and takes in a long, deep breath. She says another prayer to God. This time thanking Him for such a successful business and the popularity they do have from their loyal customers. She turns on her music and drives to campus.

Arriving on campus around 3:30 a.m., she is sharking for a parking spot. She slowly lurks around hoping she might find a spot that doesn’t require her to move her exhausted body any more than she has to. She finds a spot relatively close to her dorm. Then, she drags her exhausted body up the stairs, through her lounge, and into her bedroom. Her clothes fall off of her into a puddle on her bedroom floor. She gets into the shower to begin her nightly routine of getting ready for bed. Bautista finally lies in bed at 4 a.m., turns on her music, and drifts away into another world for a few hours of uninterrupted sleep. Peace.

Photo by Grace Wilkinson

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