Grateful for Gracias
For Grace Garcia, food and family are closely interwoven. Rusty Rae photo.
Yamhill Valley Mexican chain a family affair
My daughter’s iPhone thinks she lives at Muchas Gracias. A recent graduate of Portland State University, Nicky is working a corporate marketing internship in Portland, commuting to McMinnville at the end of the day. It’s not that she spends significant time at the popular Mexican restaurant, but she drives through the line frequently enough her smartphone confuses her home with her favorite drive-thru. When she told me her phone habitually navigates her to McMinnville’s Muchas Gracias after work, I was immensely amused but not exactly surprised. In my household, we’ve long had a fondness for Muchas Gracias — we call it Muchas, for short. The first restaurant I tried after moving to McMinnville, I wasn’t immediately smitten with the menu’s near-legendary Oregon Burrito as much as I loved its straightforward al pastor. Since that day over 20 years ago, I’ve eaten Muchas Gracias hundreds of times. Unpretentious and honest, the restaurant offers good food in substantial portions at fair prices. And Muchas Gracias has been voted the Yamhill Valley’s best Mexican food more times than any other restaurant. No wonder we are fans of this local favorite. For Grace Garcia, food and family are closely interwoven. The energetic woman behind the brightly colored Muchas Gracias restaurants in McMinnville and Newberg has family — close and extended — involved with the successful 24-hour fast-food chain. Dozens of family recipes populate the Muchas menu, inextricably placing the Garcia stamp on everything Muchas. “Our business is built on family,” said Grace. Grace didn’t intend to stay in the Yamhill Valley when she arrived in 1996 with her two young sons. “I only agreed to come for a month, to open one restaurant,” she said. Twenty locations and 22 years later, Grace is still here. She’s been joined by four of her siblings — three brothers and a sister — who also operate Muchas locations. Now grown, Grace’s sons, Memo and Chris, work for the company, too. Grace’s 15-year-old grandson, Tony, might be the most famous Garcia of the clan — the teenager’s face has been smiling up from Muchas print ads since he was very young. “I love McMinnville,” Grace said. “My family is happy here.”
Grace Garcia and crew at Muchas Gracias in McMinnville is a happy family affair. Photo by Rusty Rae
Grace was born in San Luis Potosí, a historic town in Mexico. “It’s a magical place,” she said. She grew up in the colorful and fast-paced environs of Mexico City, working in commercial food service. After earning a degree from San Diego City College, Grace went to work for Southern California Mexican food landmarks, including Roberto’s, Sombrero’s and Taco Fiesta. “Much of the model for U.S. Mexican food service originated at Roberto’s in San Diego,” Grace said. “A lot of major chains looked to us because we were successful.”
Ever since she opened her first Oregon restaurant, Grace has used her considerable experience to expand the Muchas operation, carefully introducing many family recipes along the way. The most recent additions include the spiciest hot sauces in the Yamhill Valley — two original and three new versions, all scratch-made. “You have to come inside the restaurant to get the new sauces,” said Grace. “They’re special; you can’t order them in the drive-through.” Of course, popular selections such as tacos, burritos, tostadas, chorizo, carne asada, machaca, fajitas, tortas and much more are offered. My own favorite, the al pastor, or spiced pork, is available as a combination plate or substantial burrito. “We have party specials and catering for events, too,” said Grace. Nearly two dozen Muchas Gracias restaurants can be found throughout the Pacific Northwest. In the Yamhill Valley, visit 220 N.E. 12th Street in McMinnville or 2009 Portland Road in Newberg. Menus and catering options are available at www.muchasgraciasmexicanrestaurant.com. Grace is justifiably proud of all she’s accomplished, particularly her signature menu item. “Remember, we created the original Oregon Burrito right here at Muchas Gracias,” she said. “Other restaurants try to copy us, but none are as good as our original.” Imitation really is the best flattery. But even so, when your daughter lives at Muchas Gracias like mine does, you feel a special loyalty.