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‘A new era': State Street taco cart opens brick and mortar restaurant

Jessie Rosas couldn’t fathom at the age of 8 why his father would push his taco cart onto State Street in the middle of a snowstorm early in the morning.

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Brothers Christian and Jessie Rosas pose at Don Rafas tacos in Millcreek on Thursday. Their father, Jesus Rosas, said he is beginning to hand over the reins to his sons.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Jessie Rosas couldn't fathom at the age of 8 why his father would push his taco cart onto State Street in the middle of a snowstorm early in the morning.

"I told him, 'Hey, if it's snowing so hard and there's so much snow, there's not going to be people. Why are you putting out the cart?'" Rosas said. "And he answered, 'Even if there's only one person all day, I'll still be putting out the cart. It doesn't matter if it rains, it doesn't matter if it snows, I need to be there.'"

That attitude is part of what's made Tacos Don Rafa a downtown staple since 1998 and led to the business' latest accomplishment: opening its first brick and mortar restaurant at 3804 S. Highland Drive in Millcreek. The location is the business' third overall (Tacos Don Rafa also opened a food truck in Bountiful last year).

Now that Rosas has taken on the day-to-day operations of the Millcreek location, he understands what his father was telling him on that snowy winter morning.

"That's what makes us different, not even our flavors or whatever, but the discipline my dad has brought us," Rosas said.

Opening the new location was intimidating, but Rosas said business has been steady and Tacos Don Rafa is already carving out a place in the community.

Don Nielsen, who grew up going to Don Rafa's State Street location, has been to the Millcreek location near his home half a dozen times since it opened a few weeks ago.

"We've been big fans for forever," Nielsen said during his second visit of the day to the location. "This will be a staple of our house, once a week at a minimum."

‘A new era’ of Tacos Don Rafa

The Millcreek location is part of a new era of Tacos Don Rafa as founder and owner Jesus Rosas begins to hand over the reins to his sons. Jesus Rosas is a pioneer in the state's mobile food industry, changing Utah forever when he opened Utah's first taco cart.

"After 25 years, a new era is coming to Tacos Don Rafa and that's what we're embarking on now. My kids have always helped me and we've always worked together, but now is when they get to spread their wings," he said. "I'm obviously supporting them from the sidelines, but their time has come and new things are coming."

Art work at Don Rafas tacos in Millcreek on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Art work at Don Rafas tacos in Millcreek on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Jesus Rosas said the transition has been easy; in fact, the business has always been a family affair. He named the business after his father, Rafael Rosas, who had his own taqueria in Colima, Mexico, and was known as Don Rafa. His first priority in raising his children alongside growing a business was to teach them how to work hard.

"They've always helped me," he said. "I didn't know it at the time — but maybe I hoped to myself that one day they would take over the business."

That sentiment is shared by his sons, who say they've never really left the business, even coming back to help with catering and other aspects while earning degrees in Mexico.

"I've been working here all my life," Jessie Rosas said. "Even when we were little, we were doing something. Maybe something little, but we were involved in the business. At the end of the day, inside of me, I knew that at one point I would have to put my knowledge of what I learned into the business to grow it more."

Christian Rosas said he and his brother have been able to use their degrees to help modernize the business, including growing its social media presence and introducing online ordering.

"It has been 25 years in the making. Let's give it another 25 years and make it to 50. With all these family legacies, someone has to step up," he said. "Some may say we're just a simple, humble taqueria that's been in the business for so long, but we can say we feel accomplished from being able to survive this long."

Tacos prepared at Don Rafas tacos in Millcreek on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Tacos prepared at Don Rafas tacos in Millcreek on Thursday, March 16, 2023.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Each of Tacos Don Rafa's locations are unique, says the father and son trio, with the Bountiful location offering tortas and aguas frescas and Millcreek introducing Mexican pizzas. The signature tacos and burritos are available at all three locations for the same low price of $1.50 and $6, respectively; while the tortas and pizzas range from $6 to $12.

"We don't want to overprice things, we want to keep them at a competitive level," Christian Rosas said. "We believe in giving back to community and being budget friendly because we are from Salt Lake City."

The family hopes to keep growing the business and open more locations in the future.

"Let's keep growing this because this is what fed me," Christian Rosas said. "This is what, maybe if I have kids one day, we'll have as a legacy for that third and fourth generation."