At the end of her senior year in high school, Lourdes "Lulu" de la Cruz already was involved in one of her career choices.
De la Cruz, 18, opened Taqueria Los Amigos at 124 South Fourth Street on May 1, just weeks before she graduated from Lexington's Henry Clay High School.
Next month, she will begin studies at Centre College, and family and friends will keep the business going. Her parents, Simon and Ana de la Cruz, have owned other restaurants, but they turned over the opening of this one to their daughter.
It took "three months and 25 days" from conception to reality for Los Amigos to open. Lulu de la Cruz gives credit to the Danville-Boyle County Economic Development partnership team, which helped with site selection, business planning and lease negotiation.
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When the family first considered opening a restaurant, they wanted to do it in Lexington, planning on de la Cruz attending the University of Kentucky. But "Lexington is crowded with Mexican restaurants," she said.
After attending a wedding in Danville, the family decided that the small town and Centre College would be a perfect fit.
"As I started to think about college, I began to think about what I wanted to major in and was torn between international relations and business," de la Cruz said. "My family has a history of owning restaurants, and I always thought one day I would as well.
"That is when I decided I should go for it and open my own restaurant now and go to school for international relations, having the best of both worlds."
Los Amigos has 10 employees and a small menu of authentic Mexican cuisine that focuses on freshness. Entrees include tacos, tamales, burritos, taquitos, tortas, quesadillas and tostadas. Customers have the choice of corn or flour tortillas and a variety of meat options, including chicken, pork, steak or chorizo. The only fried item is the tortilla chips.
De la Cruz was born in Acapulco, Mexico, and lived in Spain for three years. She moved with her parents to the United States at age 9 and started fifth grade at Cassidy Elementary. She quickly learned to speak English and later taught English as a second language to young students.
How does she manage her time? "Organization," she said.
And when she gets stressed, she goes to the gym for a little kick-boxing.