Beloit teen overcomes obstacles, opens restaurant

Beloit teen overcomes obstacles, opens restaurant

As a high school junior, Adrian Diaz has to juggle school, work and a social life, but that’s nothing compared with what he’s been through.

“Sometimes I look at my life, and I’m like, ‘How?'” Diaz said. “I sometimes look at it and, ‘I shouldn’t be here sometimes.’ Really, I shouldn’t be here on this planet.”

Diaz grew up in a rough neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, but he wasn’t going to let that define him.

“Even at an early age, I told myself, ‘Why become a statistic when you could break out of the statistic?'” Diaz said. “I’m going to become who I want to be. No one’s going to stop me from becoming my ultimate dream.”

Diaz moved to Beloit, but his troubles didn’t end there. He was diagnosed with stage 2 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at 8 years old and underwent chemotherapy. Just two years later, the cancer returned and doctors treated it more aggressively. Diaz fought the disease for two years, undergoing chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell therapy.

“That got me really mentally because it was really hard for me, especially as a child, staying in the hospital and not being able to go out or do anything fun,” Diaz said.

But he credits those tough times to developing his drive and determination to succeed.

“It motivates me every day,” Diaz said. “I’ve been through a lot, and it gets me going every day.”

Diaz discovered he had a flair for business when he and his mother started selling homemade tamales at the Beloit Farmer’s Market in 2012. The secret family recipes were passed down from his great-grandmother.

As business began to boom, Diaz decided it was time for another challenge, but this time, he got to call the shots. He started work on opening a restaurant with his mother.

At the end of January, Coco’s Tamales was up and running. Diaz said the restaurant, which serves mostly tamales as well as other Mexican fare like tacos and burritos, was named after his grandmother.

“This is basically a little bit of her restaurant, I guess,” he said. “It’s based on her recipes, her name.”

Diaz’s mother gets in early to start making the food in order to keep the recipes secret. Diaz said it’s a long process, taking about eight hours for just one pot. Diaz comes to help out at the restaurant after school and when he gets done with his internship at ABC Supply Co.’s ACM division.

“It’s really hard,” Diaz said. “I always set my schedule a couple days ahead and figure out when I have time to do this and time to do that.”

Diaz said he hopes to eventually open franchises of his restaurant. He said he’s teaching his two younger brothers how to manage the restaurant so they can take over, if they want, after he goes to college.

Diaz said after he graduates next May, he plans to go to college to major in business and get a minor in economics. He then wants to go to New York or Chicago to become a stockbroker. After becoming successful, Diaz said he wants to come back to Beloit, open a firm and then give back to his community.

“I’ve got to appreciate life,” he said. “I always appreciate everything. I always try to help people out.”

Coco’s Tamales is located at 2627 Prairie Ave. in Beloit. It’s open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekends.