“We thought this was going to be our best year ever,” says Jackie Campos, co-owner of La Corneta.
Heading into 2020, nobody could blame Campos. La Corneta had just opened up its fifth location at the Chase Center in fall 2019. Her restaurants’ catering efforts were accelerating, serving private events with up to four hundred attendees. And the business was on track to add another location.
But when the COVID-19 pandemic hit San Francisco, future plans for growth were placed on hold, and the typical struggles of underperforming restaurants began to plague La Corneta. The same co-owner of one of San Francisco’s most successful Mexican restaurants was starting to wonder how she would pay employees. Campos became worried about making rent. And there were uncertainties about whether or not she could maintain any sense of normalcy in La Corneta’s sourcing relationships. Tables were turned, and solutions seemed far out of reach.
Empathy in Times of Duress
Suddenly, luck was loaned and not owned. La Corneta’s PPP loan application was approved in the second wave of funding, infusing the business with cash when it needed it most. Campos says her landlord was easy to work with, providing an option to defer on rental payments. Plus, employees went out of their way for Campos and La Corneta, asking for reduced hours if they already had a second job.
“So it was a lot of people helping out…it was a community effort, really,” Campos suggests. “Like a family, they were helping each other out as well.”
A History of Family
Any selflessness in La Corneta’s staff is ultimately a product of a family-oriented culture that dates back to the restaurant’s humble beginnings. Jackie’s parents, Joel and Laura Campos, founded the first location in Glen Park in 1995 after years of working multiple jobs and saving money. They hired their daughter as a cashier when she was 16 and onboarded more family and friends over the years.
Through their commitment, a cultural institution was drawing lines out the door. The crowded taqueria generated hype for countless items, including its burritos, chile rellenos, and salsas.
“It’s a little strange to say, but we have had customers at our Burlingame location or our Glen Park location that practically chug that salsa,” Campos jokes.
As a first-generation Mexican-American, Campos also faces the subtle, yet significant challenge of living between the hyphen and maintaining cultural DNA. She often finds herself walking a fine line between preserving her roots and fostering innovation. On the surface, both juggling acts seem counterproductive to each other. Yet they play roles in keeping the family’s restaurant dreams alive.
“Certainly at times, people think, ‘Oh, no, but this recipe is so much better. Or maybe we can change things up this way,'” explains Campos. “Sometimes that change can be good and it still is true to Mexican culture, and there are times where we don’t want to stray off too much because it is a recipe that has worked for many generations.”
Maintaining a Legacy
Campos’s decisions can impact the legacy of her family and restaurant. Both – along with the community – are still going out of their way for each other.
“At the beginning of this, I was very worried about people, how they were going to react,” she says.
“It’s basically restored my faith in humanity a little bit. Just with our employees, our customers are concerned with my employees. Randomly, just a 20 dollar tip on ten-dollar food…people can be pretty good to each other and it’s different. And that’s what this whole crisis has taught me.”