Associated Press
Nicolas Garcia, a former police officer, poses by a Senor Garcia's Tex-Mes Grill, one of the collection that he runs.

POCATELLO, Idaho (AP) — There is no doubt about Nicolas Garcia's passion for his time spent in law enforcement, but when the former police officer was physically unable to continue that career, he decided to tap into another passion — cooking.

Garcia's longtime joy of cooking for friends and family has been translated over the past three years or so to a thriving business named Senor Garcia's Tex-Mex Grill, which now includes two trucks, three carts and a trailer from which he serves his Texas-influenced Mexican food.

As his business grows, Garcia dreams of more.

"My hope and my prayers are to open a restaurant here in town," he said.

Garcia was an agricultural worker more than 20 years ago. He was also a young father who yearned for more for himself and his family. But as the head of a family, he couldn't just drop a paycheck to go to school.

He did find an opportunity, however, at the American Falls Police Department, which was in need of volunteer officers for its reserve program.

Garcia signed up.

"On Saturday night, I would go home and change from my dirty potato clothes into my uniform," he said. "I volunteered Friday night, Saturday night and sometimes, when my wife allowed me, on Sunday."

A few years of that and Garcia was given a shot to be a full-time officer.

"The city of American Falls picked me up as a police officer," he said. "They sent me to the academy and I was able to fulfill my dream by (working) both jobs at the same time."

After a few years in American Falls, he joined the Chubbuck Police Department, where he worked nearly five years. Garcia eventually moved on to the Fort Hall Police Department where he was working in September of 2007 when he was struck by another driver as he drove home in his police cruiser.

About six years earlier, Garcia had suffered a back injury that was repaired through a fusion procedure. But it didn't slow him down.

"I was able to get back on my feet," he said. "I went back into law enforcement."

But after the accident in 2007, Garcia would need far more work. There was another fusion surgery in January of 2008, and earlier this year, the two prior fusions were repaired and a third fusion performed, putting a certain end to any return to police work.

"I have eight screws and a metal plate in my back," Garcia said.

It's not all tragic, however. Garcia did win a significant judgment earlier this month from Granite State Insurance, the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes' provider of underinsured policy, which protects the tribes from incidents involving the fault of someone who doesn't carry enough insurance to fully pay the cost of damages.

He was awarded slightly less than $717,000 for past lost wages, future lost wages and non-economic damages. Garcia told the Journal last week that he was appreciative of the judgment but wishes it didn't come at such a high price — a job he loved.

After 15 years of being a police officer, Garcia said he still woke up every day excited about what he did.

But after that 2007 accident, realizing that it was a long-shot that he could return to police work, he looked for something else.

"I have always liked cooking," he said. "I was the oldest of six and my mom taught me how to cook, and my grandmother, and great-grandmother. I learned quite a bit from my wife."

The first step was the purchase of a concession trailer.

"We did all the local fairs," he said. "Then I bought a little trailer that started us out at the bars."

It was the size of a hot dog trailer. The money made from that helped him purchase his first truck and it's continued to snowball from there.

This past summer, Garcia bought one of the food venues at the Eastern Idaho State Fairgrounds. It went particularly well for his first year. Especially considering he purchased the operation just two week before the fair opened, he said.

Based on his performance at the fair, Garcia says one of his top dishes is the Chapos Nachos, which he said took No. 1 in the fair's food contest this past year.

The long-time customer favorite has been his enchiladas.

"It's got a homemade enchilada sauce that I make," he said. "It was passed down from my mother."