Two local residents were acknowledged for their work in business during the 30th annual Arkansas Business of the Year Awards on Feb. 22 at the Statehouse Convention Center in Little Rock.
Conway's Austin and Ashton Samuelson, owners of Tacos 4 Life, were notified they were nominated for the award during the 2017 holiday season and Ashton said they were completely shocked.
She said she remembers Austin calling her and saying, "You're not going to believe this."
"I didn't see it coming," Ashton said. "[It was a] really nice surprise."
Being nominated alone, she said, was an honor in itself.
The awards were held last Thursday and Ashton said several members of the team and their families were able to attend.
"I think it was a really nice treat for everyone," she said.
During the night, the couple was sitting at the table when Ashton said Austin leaned over to her and acknowledged how much of an honor it was to be able to meet and get to know the owners of the four other businesses in their category of 101 to 499 employees — Rainwater, Holt & Sexton, Riggs Cat, Roberts-McNutt, Inc. and Trinity Multifamily — and stand by them on that night.
Ashton said she and Austin never expected to be in the restaurant business but felt God gave them a unique way to not only extend an interesting dining option for residents of the state, but also give diners the opportunity be a part of helping someone in need — for every meal someone buys at Tacos 4 Life, a meal is donated to a hungry child.
"Come in and eat locally, impact globally," the restaurant's Facebook page reads.
Ashton said the real heroes of their success is God, their customers and the team members who were in the restaurants producing meals while the Sameulsons were able to attend the event.
Ashton said there are currently nine restaurants open — two locations in Conway and one in Fayetteville, Little Rock, Benton, Searcy, Jonesboro, Frisco and Springdale — and that they are set to open one in Rogers, Fort Smith, North Little Rock, Concord, North Carolina and Jackson, Tennessee before the end of the year.
She said in the almost seven years Tacos 4 Life has been opened, they've been able to donate more than four million meals to children in need, but due to the growth they've experienced, will be able to donate that number for 2018 alone.
Ashton said they'll continue to open restaurants as long as it's God-honoring and sustainable to do so, noting she hopes to grow as big as God will allow to be able to extend the mission to as many people as possible, which in turn, would mean more kids reached.
She said from the bottom of their hearts, she and her husband are thankful for the love and support they've received from the people across their home state.
"[I] just want to thank the people of Arkansas for believing in this mission and eating tacos every day," Ashton said. "It's them that makes this dream a reality. Just want to let them know we are so thankful."