This month, Chuy and Irene Bravo of Fiesta Grill share with us how small business networking turned their Mexican restaurant into the American dream.
Jesus “Chuy” Bravo always seems to have a smile on his face; but never so much as when he talks about his restaurant. Just mention Fiesta Grill, and he beams with pride. Any successful entrepreneur has earned the right to be proud. But you have to know where he came from to understand why Chuy is so thankful to be where he is.
Coming to America
Growing up in Mexico, owning his own restaurant was the furthest thing from Chuy’s mind. He had never even set foot in a restaurant kitchen until coming to the United States in 1981. Restaurant work was a quick way to support his family, but certainly not an easy one. He started as a dishwasher and bus boy, progressed to bartender and waiter, and eventually became a manager. But even as his career was progressing, he still found it difficult to make ends meet in California. For the second time in his life, Chuy once again left everything he knew behind to make a better life for his family 2,000 miles away in Chapel Hill. Before he left California, he jokingly told a chef in the restaurant where he worked, they make such a good team if he ever came to North Carolina, they would open their own restaurant. As fate would have it, he did come to Chapel Hill just three years later and has been with Fiesta Grill for the past 14 years.
Small Business Networking is Key
Chuy has always believed he has the best food and service of any Mexican restaurant in the Chapel Hill area, but he admits he hasn’t always been confident as an entrepreneur. “I could cook, but running a restaurant is very, very different from being an employee. When I first started out, it was just learn as you go,” he says. “I didn’t have much money, but I had a lot of friends who also owned restaurants that I learned from.” That’s why Chuy says reaching out and networking with fellow entrepreneurs is one of the best things you can do for free when starting out.
It’s Good to be Small
Fiesta Grill began as a small takeout restaurant before adding the dining room it has today. Chuy says he often sees new business owners try to bite off more than they can chew right away. “Start small,” says Chuy. “It’s good to be small. Focus on quality, service, and consistency. Only when that’s all perfect can you even think about expanding.” Chuy believes these elements have been key to the success of his restaurant. Everything on his menu is fresh and authentic, and he has a wall full of awards to prove it.
Focus on Family
While the recognition is rewarding, Chuy says the most important key to success is to focus on people. “When I look out on a busy night at the restaurant, I think about how feeding these customers is allowing my staff to feed their families,” he says. “It’s a good feeling. The best part of owning my own business is being able to give hard-working people a job.” Chuy takes hiring very seriously and wants to make sure he has a good team in place. “My employees are like my family, and that’s how it should be.”
Padgett’s 3 Wise Questions
- If you could bake a success pie, what would the ingredients be?
“Love, dedication, and a lot of hard work.”
- If you could go back in time to the beginning, what would you do differently?
“There were many bumps in the road to where I am, but I wouldn’t change anything. Every hard time has made us better. We wouldn’t be where we are without them.”
- If you could have lunch with anyone living or dead, who would it be and why?
“I love to have lunch with my accountant, Scott Scarano. He always has great business advice and has helped me so much through the years.”
3307 Highway 54 West
Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516