Danny Trejo: “50 years ago I was heading to the gas chamber, now I’m in my own London restaurant”

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

How Danny Trejo went from robbing restaurants to owning them and why now is the right time to bring his Trejo's Taco brand to London

Related tags Danny Trejo Casual dining London Restaurant Tacos Trejo’s Tacos

The Hollywood actor on how he went from robbing restaurants to owning them, and why now is the right time to bring his eponymous LA taco brand to London.

“My life today is very different from what it was in the 1960s,” writes Danny Trejo in his 2020 cookbook Trejo's Tacos: Recipes and Stories from LA​. “I used to rob restaurants. Today I own eight of them.”

It’s fair to say that the reformed gangster turned Hollywood actor, who’s perhaps best known for his roles in films like Machete​, Desperado ​and Spy Kids,​ has led an interesting life. While his early years saw him serve intermittent jail stints in the California prison system, his later life has been dominated by success not only as an actor, but now as a restaurateur.

Trejo’s Tacos was originally created following a conversation between Trejo and film producer Ash Shah on the set of the 2012 film Bad Ass​. The pair opened their first taqueria in Los Angeles in 2016 and have since focused on expanding across the US city, building an estate that now encompasses five sites. They also operate a number of sister brands including Trejo’s Coffee and Donuts, which has a single location on Sunset Boulevard.

Trejo is now taking his taco restaurant global, recently opening its first international site in London’s Notting Hill​, Portobello more specifically. He hopes the restaurant will serve as a jumping off point for a larger Europe-wide rollout over the next five years but, he says, his focus is on making sure he gets this first site just right.

Why did you want to bring Trejo’s Tacos to London?
I love this city, and I’ve been here a few times before. I did a film called Muppets Most Wanted ​back in 2013 with Ray Liotta, rest in peace, and while we were here, we did all the tour stuff and went to a lot of different restaurants. We both said that London felt so much like LA. It’s such a melting pot of different ideas and different cultures.

Why now?
We’ve been pretty successful in LA, and I’ve had lots of people asking me if I would want to expand internationally. My business partner, Ash Shah, is from London too, and he spoke about wanting to bring it here. Originally, we weren’t actually looking in Notting Hill, but eventually this site came up. Portobello is perfect, it’s like Venice Beach. We just knew we had to do it.

Tell us what we need to know about Trejo’s Tacos
I call it Cal-Mex cuisine. My mum was an unbelievable cook, and we use her recipes, but we’ve worked hard to adapt the menu and make sure its accessible to everyone. So, we have vegan and vegetarian options and we offer gluten free. Tacos are so simple, and you can do anything with them. We have a cauliflower one that’s a bestseller; and a jackfruit one that I love.


Has the menu changed for the London restaurant?
No, it’s completely the same. We spent a lot of time trying to figure out where we could get certain ingredients. In LA it’s easy to get certain kinds of chilli. They’re here too, but you really have to look for them.

How often will you be over?
I’ll be here for a couple of months of the year. You see celebrities lend their names to restaurants, but then they’re never there and they’re not really worried about the food. I worry about the food. It’s got my name on it. I’m at my restaurants all the time, and I’m going to be coming over here regularly.


Are there any plans to also expand your donut brand?
I want to bring one here because they’re delicious. The shop we have used to be a place called Donut Time, which was made famous by the film Tangerine​. When it closed, me and my business partners picked it up and now we have lines around the block. Let me warn you, the pineapple fritter is dangerous. You have two and you’re going to need rehab.

Do you consider yourself more of a restaurateur or an actor these days?
It’s funny that you ask because a lot of people don’t even know me now as an actor now. But I’m still doing movies too. I split my time between the two.

What’s harder?
I love doing both. Being in restaurants you work closely with people, which is one of the elements I really like about it. My work in the movies is amazing as it’s given me the chance to speak to younger generations, be it in schools, juvenile halls or prisons, and I get their attention. And when I talk to them, I don’t just speak about my film work, I speak to them about success and that includes my restaurant business.


You once wrote about how you’ve gone from robbing restaurants to owning them. How does it feel to now be an international restaurateur?
I have to pinch myself a lot. 50 years ago, I was on my way to the gas chamber, now I’m sat here talking to you about my first restaurant in London. And I think the one thing I bring to young people when I speak to them in jail or juvenile hall, I’m not telling them it can happen, I’m showing them it can. I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted and more. The minute I got the negative out of my life and listened to what my mum told me to do, I was on the right path. I was doing time in Soledad State Prison, and I thought that I was never getting released. In 1969 I went to the parole board, and they let me out, but told me it was my last chance to put my life on the right path, and that’s what I did. I immediately started to try and help people and the feeling I got from that was amazing.

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