Raul Sanchez was born on April 20th, 1939, in La Havana, Cuba. Raul grew up around the restaurant business, starting when his father opened a small cafeteria in Havana when Raul was young. The area supplied produce and meat to a large portion of Havana, making the restaurant a bustling hot spot for the hungry. While the cafeteria itself merely consisted of a counter with a dozen stools, it was successful. The menu consisted of sandwiches and hamburgers, or “fritas.” The cafeteria also served freshly made tropical juice, milk shakes, beer, rum, coffee, and of course café con leche.
Raul worked at the cafeteria with his father as a child, during summer vacations. He served customers at the counter and bought the merchandise. The food was always fresh because of the cafeteria’s close proximity to food vendors. He had no idea that these summers would provide valuable experience for his profession later in life.
Later, his father bought a small rooming house, which was operated by his mother. The Sanchez family lived in this hostel, along with their twenty tenants. His mother cooked breakfast, lunch, and dinner for their tenants. While Raul did not work in the rooming house himself, being immersed in the house gave him perspective on hospitality and business.
Raul Sanchez arrived in the United States of America on January 17th, 1962, with five dollars in his pocket. He was twenty-two years old. After spending two weeks in Miami, he travelled to Washington D.C., to join an uncle who had arrived a month earlier. After working as a busboy for a year, Raul became a server in “The Omega,” a Cuban Restaurant. It was very popular with the new community of Cuban expatriates who had fled the communist revolution in Cuba.
His mother arrived three years later. Raul decided that the best way for her to support herself would be for her to rent a house and convert it into a rooming house, like the one she ran in Cuba. Raul and his mother did just that, and the rooming house was a successful enterprise.
Raul and his mother cooked first for their tenants, and then expanded into a delivery service. The business grew so much that Raul was able to open his first restaurant a block away from the rooming house. Located in Adams Morgan, the restaurant was called “El Caribe.” The menu consisted of Cuban and Spanish cuisine. He had two partners in the business, and after several years the three decided to sell the restaurant.
His second restaurant was a block away from “El Caribe,” and was named “La Plaza.” “La Plaza” served Cuban, Spanish, and Mexican food. Raul’s second venture into the restaurant business was equally successful, and eventually he sold “La Plaza,” in order to open his third restaurant.
Lauriol Plaza, Raul’s third restaurant was located on the corner of 18th Street and S Street, NW, near DuPont Circle. The restaurant thrived there for sixteen years. After the lease expired in 1999, Raul decided to move the restaurant to its present location, on the corner of 18th Street and T Street.
Cactus Cantina, Raul’s fourth and final restaurant is located on the corner of Wisconsin Avenue and Macomb Street NW. Cactus Cantina has been operating since 1990.
Luis Reyes co-owns popular District restaurants, Lauriol Plaza and Cactus Cantina.
He fled El Salvador's violence and poverty as a teenager and got his start as a dishwasher. As a result, Reyes still identifies with El Salvador's poorest class, and he worries about his employees as though they were family.
Coming from a war-torn country and a poor family has not impeded Luis to develop a unique taste for class and good food.
He has stocked his spacious restaurant houses with original paintings and elegant colonial-style furniture.