Dominic Talavera didn’t find construction so much as construction found him. In his senior year of high school in southern California, Talavera accepted a job offer from a teacher to help with various construction projects after school. “I think it stuck with me,” he recalls. “I always look back fondly on that time.”
A summer job served as the jumpstart to his career. Talavera made the decision to stay and develop his passion, becoming the youngest foreman of a drywall-framing company in his early 20s. He remembers how overwhelming it was at times: he was managing very experienced men twice his age. “But they put me in the position for a reason,” he says.
Talavera’s first restaurant experience came in the form of a dinner theater at Universal Studios CityWalk. By the end of the project, a man who is now a lifelong friend told him that Talavera would someday work for him building restaurants. And sure enough, a few months later, Talavera got the call that would steer him toward his new career path.
“Once I started building restaurants, I never went back,” he says. “It’s so exciting to go from where you have nothing in a parking lot to six months later opening the doors and watching customers come in, sit down, and enjoy the restaurant.”
The number of stories Talavera has about relationships he’s created and maintained that have helped him in the industry is a testament to his ability to create a network where he and his colleagues can swap advice, opportunities, and expertise. It’s also how he got his current role as vice president of construction and facilities at Rubio’s Coastal Grill.
Talavera had worked with Rubio’s senior vice president of operations before and gave occasional referrals for different positions. When he got the call about an opening for a construction VP in May of 2020, he immediately nominated himself.
Though Talavera was based on the East Coast at the time, he drove across the country to seize the opportunity, and dove in at the height of the COVID-19. Rubio’s was in the middle of remodeling its locations before the pandemic brought construction to a screeching halt, posing plenty of challenges for the new VP.
His first two months were spent adjusting to both the new position and virtual operations. One of his first projects was helping to close certain locations. Instead of flying to a site, projects had to be completed with photographs, spreadsheets, and local vendors. He even took on three districts where he personally manages the facilities at those locations—Talavera describes his beginnings at Rubio’s as “drinking from the firehose.”
Despite a brief period of bankruptcy at the end of 2020, Rubio’s started fresh the following January, allowing Talavera and his team to focus on facilities. The VP convinced leadership to allow him to implement minor remodels, simply known as a “refresh.” One of the primary changes was the exterior signage update from Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill to Rubio’s Coastal Grill.
Talavera didn’t let the work of previous remodeling go to waste, even at locations that had to close. He recycled their signs to use at new locations with outdated signage, an initiative he hopes to continue to align all locations under one modernized brand.
As someone who values the connections his job brings, Talavera has had to adapt to a company where he has yet to meet most of the people he works with. “That’s one of the biggest things for me: I need to be accessible,” he explains. “If you need something, just pick up the phone and call me.”
This practical communication style extends into how Talavera approaches leadership as well. “You hear a lot of things from leaders [saying] that they wouldn’t have anybody that works for them do something they wouldn’t do,” the VP says. “I can tell you—I’ve done it. So regardless of whatever my position is now, I never forget that.”
He doesn’t seek to rest on his laurels or put himself on a pedestal. “After 25 years, I’m still open to learning, especially from the people that report to me,” Talavera says.
With a team that shares his passion and work that he loves, Rubio’s is a perfect fit for the southern California native who has long enjoyed the company’s menu. “Outside of Mexico, California has the best Mexican food,” he says, laughing. “Rubio’s has always been one of my favorites. Never, ever did I think that I would have the chance to work there.”