JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Few things can bring people together like making a meal, then eating one together. One small market here in our region is doing both, by bringing together those with Hispanic backgrounds and tastes to provide some authentic ingredients and an authentic meal as well.
José Velasco is the owner of Tortilleria Familiar el Arriero in Johnson City and brings his recipes from home.
“The food, we try to make it exactly Mexican. Real Mexican. All the seasons is from the South of Mexico,” Velasco said. “It’s not a Tex-mex, it’s not American, it’s Mexican. Real Mexican.”
He learned these recipes from his parents, and now he passes them onto his children. His son Mauricio says he learned, “Through my mom. My mom and my dad. My mom’s the one who cooked it, my dad’s the one who thought about it.”
However, having a restaurant wasn’t Jose’s original intention.
Tortilleria Familiar el Arriero originally opened as a grocery store, complete with homemade tortillas. But things didn’t take off as quickly as he had hoped. So José and his family were forced to switch tactics.
“We start with the store and the tortilla machine. That’s it,” explains José . “And it’s not enough money. We say we need to do something more, we think about selling tacos. We doing good, it expanded to the other side. After three years, I make my first penny, and I say three years maybe I close, but no.”
While it wasn’t an easy start, José says it’s something he never thought would be possible. “We never think about this. This thing, just coming, working, working in tobacco, tomatoes, you know in the fields, factories,” José said. “You know, I come from Mexico but I feel I stay. I feel at home right now.”
Now they’re bringing the taste of home to the Tri-Cities. “Most people didn’t know we were pure authentic, and so when they do come in, they get surprised that it is pure authentic food, then they come more often,” Mauricio said. “It gives an opportunity for a family to visit back to Mexico and have a traditional meal. We hope to bring more people in, more Hispanics in our city and expand with our culture.”
You can find this authentic Mexican restaurant, with more than a dozen types of meat, at 307 South Belmont Street in Johnson City.
They’re open from 9 a.m. until 8 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.