Tim Shaughnessy was a nervous 16-year-old when he was met at a Scottsdale restaurant by a gruff 24-year-old Fernando “Nando” Rios for a busing job interview.

When his mother picked him up, he was sure he had blown it. But a few hours later he was called and asked if he had black shoes and black pants and, when he answered in the affirmative, told to be there by 6 p.m.

A couple months later, Shaughnessy finally got up the nerve to ask the intimidating man why he had hired him.

“Because I had two people call out that day, and I needed someone,” Rios answered.

They became the best of friends over the next 17 years. Then they became business partners for the past 18 years in Nando’s Mexican Café in Gilbert, which has grown to four restaurants in the East Valley, including Chandler in 2012. A fifth opens in Maricopa next year.

While the partnership is among three friends—third friend Sean Whalen joined in when they opened the Mesa location in 2009—families are critical to the success.

The recipes come from Rios’ mom and dad, who helped established the restaurant, although both have since passed. Shaughnessy’s dad, a welder by trade, did the metal work in the restaurants, including constructing a “tree of life” sculpture for each.

For Shaughnessy, family does not stop at the blood lines. He said the “Nando’s family” includes the employees, many of whom have stayed on long term.

“The kids running the stores—nah, I shouldn’t say that anymore—the folks, the managers running the stores now all grew up with us,” he said. “[They started as servers], bartenders, bus boys, whatever.”

Some met their spouses at one of the restaurants, had their weddings catered from them and now bring their children in. Shaughnessy said that is what makes the restaurants special.

Jessy Forman, who manages the bar at the Gilbert location, said that liking her job is an understatement. Her aunt, who formerly worked at the restaurant, referred her a week after she moved to Arizona.

“This was supposed to be my steppingstone job, just something to get me by,” she said. “And I’ve been here five and a half years.”

Forman is putting herself through school, and Shaughnessy said stories like hers make him proud.

“We’ve always had good kids, and hopefully that’s a reflection of ownership—Nando, Sean and myself,” he said.