Spanish teacher balances teaching and co-running startup Mexican food restaurant

February 6, 2024 — by Kathy Wang and Andy Zhu
Courtesy of Stephany Marks
One of the chefs from Kito’s Taco Shop, Juan, grills tomatoes for the salsa.
Spanish 3 and 4 Honors teacher Stephany Marks works full time at school while co-owning a taco restaurant in Corte Madera.

In recent months, Spanish teacher Stephany Marks has added something new to her daily plate of preparing for classes and grading:  helping run Kito’s Taco Shop, a restaurant in Marin County that she co-owns with her boyfriend Tommy Guerrero and best friend Billy Vela. 

At times, she has been making the 1.5-hour commute to the restaurant in Corte Madera right after the school day ends, essentially forcing her to balance two demanding jobs and stranding her in her car for hours each day.

The restaurant opened in October and was named in honor of Guerrero’s grandmother, “Gramma Kito.” 

The Spanish cuisine served is credited to head chef and co-owner Vela, who develops traditional Spanish dishes by infusing them with a personal creative twist from Yucatan, Mexico, where he is from. 

Marks said some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes include the Baja Fish Tacos, Shrimp Tacos and Carne Asada Quesadilla. Through a combination of fresh, homemade ingredients and Vela’s own innovative twists, Kito’s aims to provide delicious and nourishing meals to their customers.

Courtesy of Stephany Marks

One of Kito’s most popular dishes are the tacos wrapped in corn tortillas, wild caught 16/20 grilled Gulf Shrimp with cabbage, cilantro, red onion, lime crema, house-made roasted tomato salsa, and fresh guacamole.

Courtesy of Stephany Marks

Kito’s signature burrito contains rice, beans, freshly made pico de gallo and guacamole, sour cream, jack and cheddar cheese, and choice of meat.

Marks values the local community her restaurant serves.

While helping run the restaurant, Marks places heavy emphasis on customer service and makes an effort to remember all her customers’ names. Because of the welcoming community in Corte Madera, she also enjoys involving the restaurant in various local charity events.

“We reach out to high schools to find ways to sponsor schools and teams,” she said. “In April, we are going to sponsor a big bike race by donating money and sports equipment. By doing this, we get our name out, hopefully enabling us to do more community events in the future.”

Courtesy of Stephany Marks

Kito’s taco shop hosts a “free churros” fundraiser for those who bring in new or used sports equipment.

One of Marks’s most memorable experiences working at Kito’s happened in early January when Vela’s family brought in a Rosca — a type of Spanish and Portuguese sweet bread — so that the customers could participate in the Rosca tradition, in which everyone breaks off a piece of the bread and whoever receives a small plastic baby inside their bread must host a tamale party. In Christian tradition, Rosca festivities celebrate the revelation of baby Jesus, symbolized by the plastic baby hidden inside the bread. 

“I kind of put on my teacher hat and explained to the customers what the Rosca was, and they all came up and cut a piece of it,” Marks said. “For me, that was kind of combining my teaching with the restaurant.”

Additionally, Marks believes that communicating with the staff members has aided her in becoming an even accomplished Spanish speaker. While working at Kito’s, she has gained a much closer relationship with Vela’s family as well as the chefs.

How Marks balances her job as a teacher and restaurant co-owner

From October to December, Marks had been spending every afternoon at the restaurant, making her days extremely long and hectic. Because Marks lives in Half Moon Bay, she spent almost three hours every day commuting between the school and Kito’s. After arriving to school at 7:30 a.m.. She worked until 3:30 p.m. followed by a 1.5-hour drive to the restaurant. After closing at 10 p.m., Marks either drove back to Half Moon Bay or booked a hotel and drove directly to school the next day. 

“[With such an overwhelming schedule] I didn’t have any balance in my life and it was really hard,” Marks said. “I felt like I was in the car probably three hours a day, working two jobs and not sleeping much.”

Luckily, after a few months, her daily help hasn’t been needed as much.  Currently, she works at the restaurant mostly on  weekends, allowing her to dedicate more time to teaching and maintain a healthier work-life balance.

“I feel like I should be there every day because then Guerrero’s the only one managing it, but [I need to prioritize] my mental health and focus on teaching,” Marks said.

Their ultimate goal for the restaurant is to provide good food and a  “homey feel” for the customers. Though she is only focusing on the current restaurant as of now, she and her co-owners hope to franchise a second restaurant in the future. 

Marks might also consider taking a year off of teaching at some point to focus on the business, but not anytime soon. Even with her heavy responsibilities as a restaurant co-owner, she still wants to keep her primary focus on her teaching career. 

“I love Saratoga High and am really connected to this community, so I’m not planning to leave in the near future,” Marks said.

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