Jimmy Shaw was a fast-tracking ad exec with two degrees from an Ivy League college until the fates tempted him with memories of his mother’s tacos. When he opened his first restaurant, he named it Lotería Grill after the game of chance that is sometimes referred to as Mexican bingo. “The name may not be familiar to Americans,” he says, “but it screams Mexico to a Mexican.“
Shaw’s own name, and his ash blonde hair and blue-green eyes, are courtesy of his Scotch-Mexican and American grandfathers. “At home, we spoke English and Spanish as one big language,” he says, “so I learned both.”
He also learned a strong work ethic and became a personal chef while he was still in school. Every day, his employers would tell him what they wanted for dinner and, having had no formal kitchen training, he would call his mom for advice. “She’s a great, generous entertainer and cook — ‘Just throw a little water into the soup,’ she’d say, ‘There’s always room for one more.’”
After school, Shaw found a job at a Spanish language ad agency in Los Angeles, “the second largest Mexican City in the world.” He shared a house with four guys and did the cooking. “My favorite time was sobremesa,” he says, “when we’d sit around after the meal, basking in the comfort and warmth of good food and great friends.”
But after 17 years of “making too much money to quit” he was offered a high-level position that brought on an epiphany. “I realized that the job called for someone who would love it,” he says, “and I knew that wasn’t me.”
He left the agency to work from home and joined the local neighborhood council. There, a friend introduced him to Hank Hilty, head of the historic Farmers’ Market, as “an ad exec who hated his job and had a one-page plan for a Mexican restaurant that would put tacos front and center, like a sushi bar.“ Three months later a Mexican food stall became available and in 2003 Shaw debuted his first Lotería Grill. “It was business school by fire,” he says, “but when the stars line up, you ride the wave.”
Next, Shaw goes from market stall to brick and mortar restaurant...
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