SHERIDAN — Lance and Alicia Fletcher, who co-own El Tapatio Dos on North Main Street, haven’t taken a vacation in more than two years.
The couple has worked tirelessly, putting in 14-hour days, at minimum, to grow the restaurant from an impulse to a thriving business over the past six years. And they should be exhausted. But the Fletchers don’t have any plans, or desire, to slow down.
Alicia grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and decided to move to California in her early 30s, mostly to get away from a bad marriage.
“I thought maybe one day he was going to kill me,” Alicia said. “Or maybe one day I was going to kill him. So I decided to move.”
In California, Alicia sold trinkets and memorabilia in a flea market. Vendor stalls in the flea market were competitive, so she and her daughter spent several nights sleeping in their van so they could wake up and claim a good spot.
She had family in Powell, so she made her way to Wyoming.
Once in Powell, Alicia took on three part-time jobs. One of them was washing dishes in the kitchen at Powell Valley Health Care. By the time she left, she was running the kitchen there.
As kitchen manager, she oversaw the cooking of over 650 meals a day, many of which were for patients whose meals had to fulfill nutritional prescriptions.
Lance grew up in Sheridan and, except for attending the University of Wyoming, has spent most of his life here. He’s worked as a rancher most of his life, but has held a variety of jobs on top of that, including for the Decker Coal Company, in construction and as a real estate agent.
The Fletchers met through an online dating site. They were both wary of meeting someone from the internet and took it slow — they spent about a month talking over the phone before they decided to meet in person. They finally decided to meet — in public and in daylight, Alicia stipulated — in Cody.
After dating for about a year, the two decided to get married in 2010. Alicia continued working at Powell Valley Health Care for about another year, commuting back and forth to Sheridan while looking for a job. She applied to work in the kitchen at Sheridan Memorial Hospital and they brought her in for three interviews, but ultimately she didn’t get the job.
Eventually, she moved in with Lance without a job, which proved to be frustrating for Alicia, who was not used to sitting still.
“I’m not the kind of person who can stay at home,” Alicia said. “I’m the kind of person who needs to work.”
Lance, who was working as a real estate agent at the time, started inviting Alicia to help him with open houses and after wrapping up one day, they drove around looking at places for sale and stopped into the Breckenridge Market, which was a catering business with one table.
“She was in there maybe five minutes and said ‘I wanna turn this into a Mexican restaurant,’” Lance said.
Alicia’s sister and brother-in-law owned a Mexican restaurant in Powell, called El Tapatio. She had worked there while She was still working part-time in the hospital and she was confident a similar business could thrive in Sheridan.
It was a risk. The Fletchers had to purchase the building, renovate it and start a business from scratch. Lance admits he doubted whether the restaurant would work as they were preparing to open, but Alicia’s faith never wavered.
“I was sick to my stomach; I lost 20 pounds from stress,” Lance said. “But it never even entered her mind that it wouldn’t work.”
El Tapatio Dos opened in 2012 and has done nothing but grow since. One of the first diners who came through couldn’t afford their meal and Alicia gave it to them for free. But that generosity, and the friendliness and openness of the restaurants’ owners, has created a loyal customer base.
“We’ve made so many friends through this business,” Lance said. “…The people don’t only come in here to eat the food, they come in here to see her.”
Alicia quickly added, though, that she’d like to think the food has a lot to do with it. She’s taken complete control of the kitchen and insists on doing all of the cooking herself.
“She hides her spices,” Lance said.
And though Alicia is exceedingly generous with her food, she’s protective of her recipes. Lance said a customer recently asked how the restaurant’s green chili was made and Alicia told her simply it was made “with love.”
“The lady got kind of annoyed and I say, ‘Honey, why didn’t you tell that lady how to make the chili?’” Lance said. “And she said, ‘I don’t want her to go home and cook it, I want her to come in and eat it.’”
And, as if running the restaurant wasn’t enough, Alicia also decided to apply for U.S. citizenship recently. She spent two years studying for the citizenship test, mostly by listening to audio books on American history while she worked. Soon, she had graduated on to current events and was watching the news and arguing with Lance over contemporary politics.
Earlier this year, Alicia passed her citizenship test. Lance said he expected the test would take up to two hours, but Alicia completed it in less than a half-hour.
Lance and Alicia have their hands full with El Tapatio Dos as it is — they’ve stopped taking reservations because it gets so crowded at night and they don’t want to turn people away. But that hasn’t stopped Alicia from thinking bigger. Though she already works 14 hours a day, she’s entertaining the idea of opening the restaurant for breakfast and creating more outdoor seating.
“I wish I could get more hands sometimes,” Alicia said.