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‘I changed my life around’: Owner of O&E Eatery hoping his life and tacos inspires patrons

Ricky Garza, owner of O&E Eatery, went from serving time in prison to serving up deep-fried tacos. He hopes his journey inspires others to do the same.
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Posted at 7:07 PM, May 26, 2023

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — At O&E Eatery at the intersection of Oakdale Street and Eastern Avenue on the city’s southeast side, there are polish dogs, chili cheese dogs, cheeseburgers, brats, corn dogs, wings, French fries and their legendary Saginaw tacos, which means they’re deep-fried.

‘I changed my life around’: Owner of O&E Eatery hoping his life and tacos inspires patrons

“Just a variety of food,” said owner Ricky Garza during an interview with FOX 17 on Wednesday. “Everything is deep fried: hot dogs, hamburgers, fish, you know, tacos on Tuesday and Thursdays. Just a variety of just, you know, neighborhood food, affordable food.”

Garza said he loves to cook and enjoys connecting with his patrons through their favorite foods. He opened O&E three years ago and since then there’s been a stream of people walking through the door and eating his food, including a few celebrities like actor Hill Harper.

“People in the neighborhood look up to me far as what I’ve done within the neighborhood opening up a restaurant,” Garza said. “All the things I’ve done to influence them to change their life around, so, you know, I’m just happy to be part of just you know feeding the community.”

He said it feels good to give back to the neighborhood instead of taking from it.

“I went to prison twice,” Garza said. “Just you know selling drugs, you know things of that nature, running with guns and stuff like that. So, you know what I mean, I’m just thankful that I’m here, you know what I mean. I been out of prison 13-14 years. Never looked back to crime.”

It was during his time in prison that he was motivated to turn his life around, especially for his children. He enrolled in a self-reflection class that gave him the spark to change.

So, when he got out, he did exactly that.

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Sagniaw deep-fried tacos at The O&E Eatery on Oakdale and Eastern

“My brother, like I said, he owned the space. He had the machines because they used to, before I got out, they was doing the stuff in the store,” Garza said. His older brother owned the O&E Party Store next door. “So, he was like ‘Man I’m [going to] give you the building in front. Just do what you do and you know what I mean just try it.’ That’s what kind of push me in the way to open up a restaurant.”

Since opening, O&E has been a hit with the people near and far, he said, especially the youth.

He said whenever they come in and ask for work, he always tries to help them even though he can’t hire them full-time.

“I bless them, you know, give them jobs: straighten up the yard, clean all the inside up, you know what I mean, painting jobs and stuff like that, landscaping,” he said. “Just whatever needs to be done.”

He said his goal is to show them that street life is not the answer, and there’s other ways to live and thrive.

“Like I said I changed my life around,” Garza reiterated. “I used to be running in the streets, taking away. Now I feel like I’m contributing. So, it’s important as a man growing, you know, coming from where I come from you know what I mean. It just feels good to feel like I’m doing something positive.”