Anyone who walks in the door at one of the Gustavo’s Mexican Grill restaurants will immediately notice the friendly atmosphere and the eye contact from every staff member you engage. That trait comes from the energy, spirit and work ethic modeled by owner/operator Gustavo Reyes.

The three Gustavo’s Mexican Grill locations, in Prospect, LaGrange and Crestwood, bustle with activity like their namesake. That activity has enabled the local chain to expand soon to a fourth restaurant, in Norton Commons, at the location formerly housed by Citizen 7.

From the looks of it, Gustavo is thrilled to keep growing his brand throughout the region.

“I came to Oldham County in 2004, and I love it here; this is my home,” Reyes said. “I have my wife and my baby girls here, and everyone is happy. There is so much good going on here, and we’re blessed to be a part of this community.”

Serving othersand serving guests with a smile and a hug is something my parents and my sisters instilled in me.

The same dedication needed to take care of their farm can be seen in how his staff interacts with the guests. The native of Lagos de Moreno, about 120 miles east of Guadalajara, came to the U.S. when he was 15, where he stayed with cousins in Nicholasville. He held several jobs from painter to bricklayer to dishwasher and built those funds into a successful business.

“I wanted to make money to buy a truck and someday a house,” Reyes said. “I started  out making more than $200 a week, which was more than how much a lawyer in Lagos de Moreno would make. But serving others and serving guests with a smile and a hug is something my parents and my sisters instilled in me.”

He opened Gustavo’s in Crestwood in 2010 with help from one of his sisters. And the family influence continues to this day. He and his sister visit each other a few times a year and work on menu items and food concepts as well as ways to improve and grow his business.

“We started with a small place, about 20 tables, in Crestwood,” Reyes said. “And we worked hard to give the best food and service that we could. But our goal was always to grow the business. My insurance partner, Jay, really helped with all of that. After about two years we were able to make a little money. And two years later, we went from a 2,000 square feet space to double that size. In 2013, I was able to focus on completely Gustavo’s and we grew to over 300 seats.”

He’s a magnanimous character. He engages his guests and wants them to feel welcome; like they’re not just in his home, but in their home.

“We work hard to please our guests,” Reyes said. “Talking with people and seeing happy faces is something I love to see."

He and his wife Karina have two girls, three-year-old Sophia and year-old Salma. During to the interview, Sophia greeted guests and bounded about the restaurant creating warm smiles from table to table.

“I started working when I was 10, helping my grandparents on their farm milking cows,” Gustavo said. “I was helping them because I love to work and my grandfather taught me so much. I talk about those things he taught me here all the time and will teach my daughters, too: work hard, respect people, be honest and have good values. If someone is doing something and you have the chance to help, then volunteer to help. I hope I can pass all of this along to my daughters someday.”

A year after the expansion in Crestwood, Reyes opened Gustavo’s La Grange. Two years later he opened in prospect and the Norton Commons spot is tentatively scheduled to open in December. Look for a new menu at that location with dishes inspired by traditional recipes from Lagos de Mareno.

And future plans include a new restaurant just down the parking lot in La Grange as well as a new concept in the works for 2021.

It’s not just the standard Mexican fare at Gustavo’s. He puts little twists on several dishes that make them a little more unique and show a little more care.

“I’ve learned so much from my parents and grandparents and sisters,” Reyes said. “We love to cook and we want our guests to be happy. We’re so blessed to be here in America and for all the opportunity it has given me and my family.”

Fans of his restaurants frequent not just for the well prepared dishes, but the hospitality and the family atmosphere. You meet him once and you’ll see; you’ll be part of the family.

“I’m a family person and we want everyone to feel like they’re part of our family.”