In anticipation of the tens of thousands of football fans who will be traveling to Phoenix for Super Bowl LVII this Sunday (February 12), Wilmer Valderrama (That ’70s Show) recently teamed up with PepsiCo to award five Latine-owned businesses in the Arizona capital city each with a check for $10,000 as part of their campaign, Juntos Crecemos. The funds are aimed to give local restaurants some economic assistance, so they can purchase additional supplies, hire and train extra staff, and offer extended hours to meet the potential rise in traffic.
Valderrama, best known for playing foreign exchange student Fez in That ’70s Show and its recent sequel That ’90s Show, had worked in the service industry before, so he knew first-hand what support from a program like Juntos Crecemos would mean for the Phoenix restaurants.
“When I was very young, I worked as a busboy,” Valderrama told Remezcla during a recent interview. “Later in my life, I was able to launch multiple restaurants. I understand how difficult it is to open one and the even more difficult task of keeping the doors open. It’s something I related to in many ways.”
On Thursday (February 2), Valderrama joined executives from PepsiCo Beverage North America and Frito-Lay for a ceremonial check presentation to Alexis Carbajal and Juan Ayala, owners of the Puerto Rican restaurant Phoenix Coqui in midtown. The four other restaurants that received checks were Carnicería México, Imelda Happy Tamales, Rosita’s Place, and Tacos Tijuana. The most exciting part of the experience, Valderrama said, was seeing the reactions from the owners and hearing the stories about the history of their restaurant.
“As soon as you come in, they start telling you how they started the restaurant and how it’s going,” he said. “It brought me a lot of joy to hear that some of these restaurants have been in their families for over 60 years. When someone knows how to make good tacos or birria or burritos, that’s something very special.”
Valderrama, who is half Venezuelan and half Colombian, agrees that the best Latino food comes from restaurants like the ones PepsiCo awarded through Juntos Crecemos. Small, family-owned restaurants that sometimes fly under the radar are the ones where customers will find the most authenticity. “You look at these menus and you’re like, ‘Now, I know why they’ve got it going on,’” Valderrama said. “If [a restaurant] has an abuela in the kitchen, it’s going down.”
So, what exactly is Valderrama ordering when he walks into a restaurant like Carnicería México or Rosita’s Place? It’s a tough choice for him between two classics.“Sometimes I have to flip a coin between pozole and menudo,” he said. “I always look for the soup. A good [caldo de] pollo is hard to find.”
No matter what he orders, Valderrama knows the quality of the food served at Latino restaurants in Phoenix is going to be top-tier – even more so now that PepsiCo has stepped in with support. Ten thousand will go a long way for a small business.
On that note, what does Valderrama think Fez would spend $10,000 on now that he owns his own hair salon in That ’90s Show? More hair products? Training for stylists? “I think he’d probably buy a bigger portrait of himself,” Wilmer Valderrama said. “I think that would probably be the right choice.”
And now that we know That ’90s Show has been renewed for season two on Netflix, this sounds exactly like what Fez would do.