Making a safe space for people with special needs has always been a top priority for Derek Gonzalez, founder and CEO of Goat Hospitality Group. Launched in 2017, the Miami-based GHG runs the fast-casual spot Pilo’s Street Tacos, as well as three bars, Pilo’s Tequila Garden, frozen drinks concept Frozarita, and LGBTQ-oriented Nathan’s Beach Club on South Beach.
Pilo’s is named after Gonzalez’s aunt Pilo, who died from complications related to Down Sydrome, and his love for her has been a driving force in helping others with special needs, or as he prefers to describe them, “special abilities.”
Gonzalez, who worked in finance before becoming a foodservice entrepreneur, recently shared his perspective and his plans for expanding his company.
Restaurant Hospitality: Goat Hospitality Group’s stated mission is to be the largest employer of individuals with special abilities. What does that mean to you?
Derek Gonzalez: It’s woven into the fabric of who we are as a company, and that’s truly what Goat represents to me, not that we are the greatest of all time, but that everyone that works for the company is the greatest of all time regardless of whether or not they have a disability. We truly love and enjoy our mission and look forward to continuing to expand both our businesses and our core mission.
RH: Why is that your priority?
DG: Inclusivity and working with individuals with special abilities stems back to my childhood. My aunt Pilo lived a full life with Down Syndrome. She embodied so much love and life during her years that it impacted me both personally and in the way I wanted to run my businesses. In her memory, my team and I work tirelessly to bridge the employment gap for individuals that live with special abilities.
RH: What kinds of jobs do people with special needs hold at your restaurants?
DG: They can truly do anything. We have servers, food runners, and bussers with special abilities.
RH: Do you have to make special adjustments for them?
DG: I started my business with the mission of being the largest employer of individuals with special abilities and I’ve worked toward that goal every day. It’s something that’s always been at the forefront of everything that we do, so I don’t think we’ve ever had to make changes to make it happen.
RH: Does the non-disabled staff need special training to learn how to work with those who may process things differently?
DG: I really believe that everyone we hire, both with and without special abilities, believes in our mission to the core. We do not hold special trainings because working with people with special needs is something that comes from the heart and is the core of who we are, and it just works for us.
RH: You are planning on having 10 spots by the end of the year. Can you tell me about them?
DG: We’re so excited that we’re in such a growth phase of our business. While some things will be coming from our core brands, there are a few great new concepts to look forward this year, [including Mia and LunaSol, both slated to open this winter].
RH: After a successful career in finance, why did you want to shift to opening restaurants?
DG: I love everything about the hospitality industry, and have from a young age. I spent half my adolescence around some of the best food and hospitality in the world in Mexico City. I really wanted to bring that to Miami — the authenticity, the level of unmatched service — and it brings me so much joy to do that.
RH: Will you operate only in Florida?
DG: I won’t say for certain, but we are looking to expand into other markets.