As if opening one highly acclaimed restaurant wasn't enough, Espartaco ("Taco") Borga and his wife, Dunia, now run four--three versions of La Duni and the new Mexican-Peruvian place on Central Expressway called Alo.
La Duni, named one of the nation's best new restaurants of 2001, brought Borga into the limelight--and not for the first time. He was born in Spain into a famous family, his parents both being film stars. By the age of eight, he was a recognized actor, as well.
He fell into the restaurant industry almost by accident. In 1988, he moved to Dallas and opened Raffles in the Crescent Court. Then he co-founded ZuZu and Lavendou before deciding on his own family-run place.
So where does he get all his ideas? Well, he doesn't steal them, that's for sure...
1. Why not just stop at one restaurant?
Because you want to get your life back someday. With one restaurant, you are a slave.
2. Is it hard working with your wife?
In this particular case it's very easy. She has her baking facility, I have the restaurants. So we don't see each other much during the day. We're not at each others' throats. And we have a rule: we only argue for 30 minutes about business. It's like chess--two minutes, ring the bell, my turn.
3. You grew up in Spain with a mother from Mexico and father from Venezuela. Which version of Spanish did you learn?
A mix of Mexican and Venezuelan...and whatever else was around. Because of my parents' acting, I did a lot of traveling as a kid and had a lot of people taking care of me. It's the nature of that business. But I got to experience a lot of different cultures.
4. They were stars--and you were, too, as a child. What's it like?
As a kid it's actually scary. You can't go out and enjoy things with your parents. There's always someone who wants to intrude. And they think they have a right to intrude. When I was acting, the first time someone came up and asked for my autograph I thought 'that's it.' I was eight.
5. So why become a chef?
I didn't know what I was getting into. In Spain, actors are always at restaurants. Lunch lasts six hours and people end up holding meetings in restaurants. My father decided it was a waste of money to have an office. He would save money by owning a restaurant. And he did. But he thought the same thing would happen when he moved to L.A. He opened a restaurant. I was 18 and he fired the kitchen staff on New Year's Eve. They wanted more money and said they wouldn't cook the dinner unless they got raises, so he fired them. He looked at me and said "get in there and cook." I said "you're out of your bloody mind." I had to do 300 covers. But I worked later with a professional chef who taught me to enjoy it. I never thought I wanted to be a chef, no way. Now I enjoy it. Expediting, I'm good; but on the line I suck.
6. Ever look at child actors and think 'you're making a mistake'?
It could be great. It can be a fabulous life. But only one out of 100 child actors ends up sane. My sister loved it. She still thrives on it. But I couldn't handle it.
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7. People often say working the front of a restaurant is like acting. Is it?
It is, no question. On the front side of a restaurant you're not allowed to have a bad day. You have to be patient. You have to be pleasant all the time. Not even doctors have to do that. It's like acting in that you have to cover your emotion...but they do it for an hour or two on stage while we have to cover our emotions for a 12 hour shift. It's part of what it takes. And once you get in the habit, it's actually very enjoyable. No other job gives you such instant gratification.
8. Do you have a favorite movie star?
It depends on my mood. There are times for serious acting and times for something funny. I don't have favorite actors, but I have favorite performances by actors. Movies are the only thing that will take my thoughts away from restaurants. Well, maybe a good bottle of Scotch, too.
9. How about a favorite restaurant?
That's the same thing. For a great meal I go to Mercury or Fearing's or Sharon Hage's place--York St. But I love to have barbecue at Sammy's. When I want a burger I go to Twisted Root. Every Monday you're likely to see us having family dinner at Mint.
10. If you could steal one idea from those places it would be...?
We don't steal ideas, we get inspired. Believe me, I have plenty of colleagues I've gotten inspiration from. Lately, the one I like was the points program at Lawry's. Our program is based on--was inspired by--that.