Q&A with Bernie Garcia, President, Moctezuma’s Mexican Restaurant and Tequila Bar
By Marguerite Cleveland
Bernie Garcia grew up in the restaurant business starting out at his parents’ restaurant, the first Moctezuma’s on South Tacoma Way, as a dishwasher because his dad wanted him to learn the value of hard work. He was so young he needed a stool to reach the sink. He worked his way up through every position in the business and realized he was a natural entrepreneur. Bernie loves the challenge of adding innovations that set Moctezuma’s apart from their competitors. Moctezuma’s has always been a family affair, and his parents are still essential to the brand and have plenty of input on the creative and culinary side of things.
Q. The restaurant has been open for over 40 years, and you have received numerous "Best Of" awards. What does it mean to you to have the local community embrace your business?
A. The only reason that we exist is because of our loyal customers. After serving our amazing guests for over 42 years, we don’t take that for granted. Every single day our goal is to ensure that each of our guests has the best Mexican restaurant and hospitality experience. To maintain exceptional service, food and drink consistently, we employ and retain the best teams by providing them with an ideal work environment to be able to execute to our high standards.
To quote my dad, “It’s not difficult to get to the top, but staying there is the real challenge.” My teams and I do not rest on our laurels. We are humbled and proud of what we have been able to accomplish in this industry, but we are constantly on our toes, working to sustain our success and maintain a quality presence in a competitive market.
Q. How did you come up with the in-house branded liquor "Grandeza”?
A. After the launch and success of our Coronarita (the margarita with the inverted Corona beer in it), we introduced an innovation in which we used a mini bottle of orange liqueur to create an elevated Cadillac margarita. Its popularity was impressive. However, one issue that we had was not being able to maintain a consistent supply of clips, and secondly, with the high cost of the minis, it was a challenge to make a decent profit.
After much brainstorming, a bottle design with an integrated clip came to mind. A year later we were granted the utility patent for our innovative clip bottle. We tested our first prototype in our restaurants and were amazed at the popularity. That was when we realized that we were on to something.
Then we set out to create the ultimate orange liqueur for margaritas, one that would complement tequila and not overpower it the way cognac or brandy-based orange liqueurs do. After months of testing and sampling, we arrived at our final Grandeza recipe, which included organic Mexican agave nectar, orange peels and a hint of vanilla for balance. It’s 40 percent alcohol and neutral grain spirit based. It beautifully complements the tequila, instead of masking its flavor.
It has been two years, and now Grandeza is distributed by the largest distributor of spirits in the country, Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Grandeza was recently honored with a double gold medal at the SIP awards, which was the highest medaled orange liqueur. We couldn’t be prouder!
Q. What is your inspiration for your recipes?
A. My mother inspires our recipes immensely and is essential to our culinary process. She blesses every new addition to our menu and has influenced many of the dishes that we have created. With the culinary experiences and skills of our talented executive chef, my mother, and myself, we make a great team in creating the new items for the restaurants.
Since I have a passion for traveling, I appreciate how my world explorations and sampling of some of the finest dishes and drinks have inspired me and been infused into some of our new menu items and innovations at Moctezuma’s.
Q. How do you contribute to the local community?
A. Our parents instilled volunteering into my siblings and me at a very young age. Every year, during the holidays, my dad would take our family to serve homemade meals at homeless shelters. Serving those in need was ingrained in us, and so I feel a deep sense of responsibility within me to give back to my community.
We currently have a fundraising program where we invite groups to host events at our restaurants, and they receive a portion of the sales they bring in.
During this COVID-19 pandemic, we have been offering free children’s meals (with the purchase of a lunch or dinner entrée) to ease the burden of parents. We’re also providing heavy discounts, and in some cases, complimentary meals to health-care workers and hospitality industry workers during the shutdown. Our team even donated and delivered hot meals to our frontline workers at St. Joseph Hospital, and other local hospitals as well.
We are honored and proud of our charitable efforts and will continue to make a difference wherever we can. When our community needs us, we will always be there.