Don Juan Mex Grill
by Amy Benninger, digital marketing specialist
Do what you love and you will never work a day in your life, or so the saying goes. After meeting Juan Martinez ’07, I am convinced that adage is true.
Don Juan Mex Grill, established in 2011 by Juan and his wife, Melanie Martinez, serves the best tacos in town. There I said it. When I found out Juan was a Muhlenberg graduate, that was the icing on the cake, or should I say the salsa on the taco.
Don Juan Mex Grill is considered a casual, fast dining restaurant in the Lehigh Valley. There are now five Lehigh Valley locations: Easton, Bethlehem, Emmaus, Fogelsville and Macungie.
Born and raised in the Dominican Republic, Juan knew at a very young age he wanted to be an entrepreneur. His father was an auto mechanic and owned his own shop in town. But his parents were firm believers in hard work and instilled the value of earning an education in all of their children. As a result, neither Juan nor his six brothers and sisters were allowed to work in the family business.
At 16 years old, Juan traveled to the United States to continue his education. As an ESL student (English as a second language) at Whitehall High School his dream of becoming an entrepreneur drove him to work hard in school.
After high school, Juan started his college journey at Lehigh Carbon Community College, where he earned an associate’s degree in business administration. In 2003, he transferred to Wescoe, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration through Wescoe’s Accelerated Degree Program. “Wescoe helped me with my communication and presentation skills. Prior to going to Wescoe, I wasn’t able to speak in front of the public,” says Juan.
But Juan did not stop there; he went on to earn his MBA and found himself in the banking industry. Wait, the banking industry? The guy who serves the best tacos in town was in the banking industry?
Yes, after working in banking for 10 years, Juan took that knowledge and experience and parlayed that into the life of a restauranteur. With the help of his wife Melanie, the influence of his mother’s recipes, his Dominican roots and that entrepreneurial spirit, Don Juan Mex Grill was realized.
Sixty plus employees later, Don Juan Mex Grill is one of the top, privately-owned restaurant chains in the Lehigh Valley. Earning Hispanic Business of the Year 2018 from the Lehigh Valley Chamber of Commerce and Best Nachos from Lehigh Valley Style’s Best of the Lehigh Valley: Food and Drink, Juan plans to add another five locations in the next five years.
An important part of his mission is to give back to the community. Juan established a scholarship program for high school seniors in financial need to further their education.
He spends time with ESL students and speaks with Future Entrepreneurs, junior and senior high school students who express interest in becoming entrepreneurs. “At the end of the day it is all about giving back,” says Juan. “Someone gave me a hand and guided me, and I want to do the same.”