Surprisingly, you will not find Mexican chefs behind the kitchen doors. Instead, Chinese cooks tend to the food and prepare the Mexican dishes. Knowledge of how to concoct these foreign dishes is usually acquired through work experiences at other Mexican restaurants. De Shi Zheng and his wife, for instance, learned to cook simple Mexican food at Tex-Mex Bakery, owned by Susan Sugarman, prior to opening Fresco Tortilla. In some cases, however, employees may take on multiple roles and serve as cooks in addition to being waiters or waitresses. This is especially true for small, relatively busy, restaurants whose structures resemble those of fast food restaurants, and where customers tend to order meals “to go.”
The national backgrounds of the managers and crew members do vary, however. Most Chinese-owned Mexican restaurants are staffed entirely by Chinese immigrant workers. Both Fresh Taco, located at 799 Cypress Avenue, and Fresco Tortilla, located at 125 West 42nd Street, are noted for their wholly Chinese crews. On the other hand, Taco King, located at 6405 108th Street, has a completely Mexican work force, with the exception of their Chinese chef. Others are mixed. For example, the staff of Taco Bandito, located at 325 Eighth Avenue, is comprised of one Mexican and two Chinese employees during the afternoon shift.
Skill is, of course, a major factor concerning staffing patterns. In an interview for The New York Times, Mr. Zheng revealed that his decisions regarding managerial positions were based on how well an employee could fold a fajita – a delicate process that requires care, reliability, and efficiency. A worker’s ability to communicate with customers is also important. Taco King has received some negative reviews because only one of its Mexican employees can speak English. However, at Taco Bandito, all employees are proficient in English, which is reflected in the restaurants comparably high service ratings.
Unfortunately, skill does not always guarantee that a worker will be hired. Oftentimes, employees of Chinese-owned Mexican restaurants will include the families of the owners. The workers at Mr. Zheng’s restaurant consist of two of his own immigrant brothers. Likewise, the two Chinese employees at Taco Bandito, shown below, are relatives.