When Jenny Cuevas, then in her mid-twenties, immigrated to Long Beach from Mexico City in 1999, she never imagined she would buy the restaurant where she got a job.

But after 14 years of working her way up from host to server to manager at the Mexican chain restaurant Taco Surf in Belmont Shore, she did.

Since 2013 it has been her responsibility to keep the business going and support the 20 employees that rely on the restaurant’s success. She changed the restaurant’s name to Taco Shore after a few years, separating the restaurant from the chain, and she changed the menu to better reflect her home country’s diverse cuisine.

“When I travel to Mexico, I bring always ideas or recipes so I can implement them in my store,” Cuevas said. “We have mole from Oaxaca, we have tacos from Puerto Vallarta, we have ceviche from Jalisco.”

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But with recent challenges like skyrocketing food and labor costs, customers on tighter budgets, and a slow recovery post-pandemic across the restaurant industry, Cuevas says she’s now having trouble turning a profit.

“It’s a lot for the business because it’s not like before where you could actually make money, it’s just sustaining,” Cuevas said.

Her most recent move to get customers in the door is adding a full bar, which will allow the restaurant to serve margaritas with fresh fruit like mango and strawberries and tequila starting on March 1.

Cuevas has been thinking about adding a full bar to the restaurant for years, even before the pandemic. The restaurant already had a license to serve wine and beer, meaning they were able to make margaritas with agave wine, but she knew a full bar would be a draw for customers, and she wanted to be able to serve margaritas with tequila.

Taco Shore at 5316 1/2, Second Street in Long Beach, Friday, Feb. 23, 2024. Photo by Thomas R. Cordova.

Even after she decided to pursue a license, it was a lengthy process. The restaurant has had its full liquor license from the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control since last year, but waiting on the city for needed permits meant it was unusable until now, according to Cuevas.

“It is very challenging to have a restaurant,” she said. “It’s way more challenging dealing with the city. I don’t think it’s meant to be for small businesses. We all get treated the same way, franchise of not, and it’s hard because, in my case, I had a lack of direction.”

Finally, though, Cuevas is ready to begin serving cocktails, starting with margaritas. She plans to add more drinks to the menu but wants to wait to see what’s most interesting to customers.

With the addition of the bar, Cuevas stresses that it’s still a family-friendly restaurant first, but she hopes the new offering will draw in new customers and be a much-needed boon for business.

“I’m excited, I’m nervous, I’m overwhelmed because there’s so much going on, but I think I’ll be fine,” Cuevas said. “I think I’ll be able to survive and keep my doors open for a long time.”

Taco Shore is open daily at 5316 and 1/2 E. Second Street.