On a weekday morning at HomeState in Sherman Oaks—the fifth location of the popular breakfast taco chain—the mood is lively. Guests are chatting around wooden picnic tables in the casual outdoor patio where small yellow lights are strung up on the ceiling. Owner Briana Valdez is buzzing back and forth, politely asking her staff to make small adjustments to the music volume and taco presentations.
Briana is a perfectionist when it comes to her restaurants, and that makes sense, because the ideas of home and hospitality play such large roles in how she runs her business. The Texas native remodeled the space, outfitted from a former auto repair shop, to look like a white house with windows, leading to a covered patio with roll-up doors.
“It’s something I miss so much about Texas: just the nature of patio life,” says Briana. “You don’t see anything that says ‘Texas,’ but you feel Texas in here. The ceiling fans and music are always going, the doors are always open, and there’s a nice breeze.”
The easygoing nature of the restaurant extends to its food. HomeState is known for its house-made flour tortillas and tacos filled with scrambled eggs, brisket and refried charro beans. The queso dip is special. It took Briana five years to perfect the recipe because she wanted to make it from scratch, without using the traditional Velveeta cheese.
One of the constants at HomeState are “Band Tacos,” a tradition Briana started in 2015 with her triplet sister Andy Valdez, who is the company’s director of brand and communication. The sisters collaborate with popular indie musicians, from the likes of Best Coast to Future Islands, to create one-of-a-kind tacos. A portion of sales goes toward a variety of charities. They’ve donated over $250,000 to nonprofits like ACLU of Southern California, No Us Without You, and Watts Empowerment Center.
Owner Briana Valdez
“We like to help an organization for a while so that we can make an impact,” Briana says, adding that her team gets together to discuss what issues are most pressing to them.
The current Band Taco is a co-creation with indie rock musician Phoebe Bridgers. “The Maxine,” a nod to her dog’s name, is a vegan offering that comprises a corn tortilla stuffed with black beans, shiitake mushrooms, avocado, caramelized onions and corn chips. For every taco sold until November 22, $1.25 goes to CASA of Los Angeles (CASA/LA), a nonprofit that advocates for children and families in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
“Not only do CASA/LA and the children we work with receive donations with every bite, but collaborations like this resonate with people, and we definitely need to bring more attention to our work,” says CASA/LA CEO Charity Chandler-Cole. “Good food creates good memories, and we want people to remember they can do good in the world.”
Briana’s drive to help others stems from her own upbringing. “We grew up so poor,” she recalls. “My dad had a construction company when we were born and filed for bankruptcy when I was 5 or 6. My parents had two daughters, and then they had triplets. So they went from a small to a very large family. My parents struggled so much.”
But some of her fondest memories were at her Grandma Lala’s house, where she watched her hand-roll fresh tortillas, and stew meats and beans in large pots.
“She had this beautiful servant’s heart,” Briana says. “She didn’t have much at all, but she took care of people with what she did have.”
There’s a framed photo of Grandma Lala at every HomeState. Briana says she is HomeState’s spirit and her family’s matriarch. “I never want to forget those roots because it’s so important to us,” she adds.
Briana’s roots have guided her throughout her own trajectory. When she was working as a hostess at Bouchon in Beverly Hills, she came up with the idea of bringing a piece of home to LA in the form of breakfast tacos, migas and queso. She toiled in the kitchen, trying to recreate her Grandma Lala’s dishes while playing the Tejano music she grew up listening to.
After introducing her food to the public through pop-ups, Briana finally found a space for her first restaurant in Hollywood in 2013. Her first investor was her mother, who contributed $5,000 from her retirement savings. HomeState has blossomed since, and with investment money from a private equity fund, has locations in Highland Park, Pasadena and Playa Vista; planning is underway for more.
It all comes full circle to Briana’s family. Her parents, who are first-generation Mexican Americans, grew up feeling unseen.
“They never felt their story was important enough to share,” she says, “so seeing that HomeState exists out in the world, it’s just mind-boggling for them.”
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