By Angel Zurita, Owner
In 1995 I moved to Colville Washington. When I couldn’t find a job in my field of banking, I went looking for alternative employment. I was offered a hostess job at Rancho Chico Mexican Restaurant. With nothing else available, I accepted the job. After a few days of working as a hostess, I was offered a busgirl position part time. After a few months of working in that position, I figured out that I could make good money in a restaurant! I also found that it appealed to my outgoing nature as I got to meet a lot of people. I worked extra hard for all the servers and they rewarded me financially. After 2 months in that position, the owner, Margaro Anaya, asked if I would like to be trained as a server. As this meant more responsibility, more hours and more money, I accepted. I told my boss that I had always worked in customer service before, never in a restaurant. She said he would have another server train me and teach me to make all the drinks. I said I would have to think about it.
The next day I told her I would take the job, and my training started. The biggest challenge was that I had to be my own bartender, and memorize the entire menu from front to back.
I studied very hard and in 2 weeks was ready to fly on my own. I found my passion working as a server. I really enjoyed it: the hours were good and I was happy with my wages. I was surprised to find that I made more money working as a waitress then I had made working for a bank. A few months later I was offered a partnership to open another Rancho Chico in Newport, Washington. I did not take the offer for the partnership however, because I wanted to move to Boise, Idaho.
At that point I began formulating a dream – bigger than a partnership. I decided I wanted to open my own restaurant. When I moved to Boise, Idaho; I walked into TGI Fridays for lunch and asked the waitress if they were hiring. She said she would ask, and when she came back she had an application in her hand. She told me that the manager asked that I fill it out while waiting for my food to be delivered. I filled out the application and returned it to the waitress. A few minutes later the manager came to my table and sat down. “What made you apply here?” he asked. I answered that I had just moved to Boise, and I thought TGI Fridays looked like a fun place to work. He nodded his head, then he said “Can you start training on Monday?” “Training??” I answered. He told me that it was mandatory to have training if you wanted to work at TGI Fridays. “Ok, I’ll be there” I replied. I didn’t tell him, but I had intentionally decided to work at an an American Restaurant so I could see what the difference was between a Mexican and American Restaurant. I was surprised that TGI Friday took it’s service so seriously that they required two weeks of training.
For 3 years I took notes and inhaled information. TGI Fridays is focused on customer service, quality of food, and not letting food die in the window. I learned the importance of focusing on customer service, up-selling and serving quality food. After 3 years I moved back to work for my uncle in Newport Washington in another restaurant. My uncle, Antonio Galvan had taken the partnership that had been offered to me three years before. They called the new restaurant Rancho Alegre. I asked if I could come work for him part time. He agreed, as part time was the only work he had for me.
I worked at Rancho Alegre for 2 years, saving every dime I could. I confided in my uncle my dream of openning my own restaurant. He encouraged me – saying that it was a great idea. Thinking ahead, I asked if I could train in the kitchen – I volunteered to make all the margarita and colada mixes, on my own time.
Once I had the mixes mastered, I started training early in the morning with the head chef. I learned to make all the food from scratch. After I felt I had a handle on that area, went on to learn everything about payroll, bills, register – all the financial side of the business. My goal was to be able to do every job in that restaurant. After 2 years, I was ready to pursue my dream. I asked Antonio if I could call him with questions during the process and he said “Yes, of course!”. It was nice to know he had confidence in me.
At one point, during my time at Rancho Alegre, 3 cute older ladies came into the restaurant and I happened to be their waitress. They said to me, “You know, a restaurant like this would go great in Enterprise Oregon.” I said, “Where is that?”. Eventually, I took a week off work and I came to Enterprise to check out this beautiful place those cute ladies had described to me.
I could see there was not any Mexican food, nor (at that time) even a Chinese place! I looked at the “Enterprise Diner” (now Red Rooster) and almost bought that building. Eventually, the owner decided to not sell. That made me feel that my dream was shattered because I had spent money and time to find that location. My husband at the time said, “So what! If she won’t sell, you will find a better place.” I heard the owner of the building at the business of “House Cafe” was looking for options. When my realtor asked him if he would sell – he said yes.
The building was rather run down – in fact, It needed a lot of work. I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. My husband wasn’t too crazy about moving to Enterprise. He shocked me by telling me he wouldn’t be moving with me or helping with any of the project. I was crushed. I had to choose between my marriage or pursing my dream. I asked him why? He said “Enterprise is way too small and I don’t like it. I give you about a year to be broke, in debt, and sleeping under a bridge. I am not going to loose all my savings just because you want to pursue your broken dreams!” That really hurt my feelings, but it made me determined to try even harder!
I didn’t really know how I was going to do it. Single with 5 children and a full time job. From November of 2002 till July of 2003 I went back and forth from Newport to Enterprise working towards my dream. Eventually I got an apartment for my little family, but my husband kept the kids till the end of summer.
Finally I was able to open on July 4th of 2003. It was a wonderful success. I had people lined up waiting for a table and all I could seat was 50 guests. I was very grateful that my husband had kept temporarily kept the kids, because the hours were rough. Some of my employees and I would be at the restaurant till midnight, prepping for the next day. Long days and short nights – from July to September. I would stay up all night trying to figure out the books, deposits and payroll. I had to relearn how to track the finances, as my bookkeeper required it done a certain way – different than I what had learned while at Rancho Alegre! Everything I learned at Rancho Chico got changed around altogether.
Sometimes my roommate Lupita would get up and say “What time did you get up?” and I would reply, “I haven’t gone to bed yet!” I don’t know what I would have done without her. My friend gave me a ton of support and help with both the business and my children.
I was working 14 hour shifts, dropping the kids at school, picking them up at 3:30, for 4 days a week. Helping them with homework and doing all the paper work for the restaurant was hard; somehow, I got through it all. The restaurant became my kids’ first home. I would pick them up from school and take them back to the restaurant; feeding them at “the family booth” as we call it. Then they would do their homework – right there in the same booth. After that they would play outside the restaurant till they were tired or hungry again. Then they could go watch television in a room I build for them at the restaurant. After I closed we would finally get to go home. Most often they would fall asleep before we left and I would have to carry them to the car. The next day – we would perform the same routine.
In order to survive – I rented a house that had 5 bedrooms and I begged all my employees to be my roommates! I was determined to to survive and pay off all my loans! For almost 2 years I had roommates. Where else could I have rented a house for $250 a month? My children hated that, but it was a sacrifice that I had to make to assure I could achieve my dream.
I now think back and say to myself, how did I do that? I also tell myself, “ I don’t think I would be able to do it again!” 15 years later, here I am, still standing and trying to survive to show everyone who didn’t believe in my dreams, my goals, that I can do this! I have to say, that by doing this with 5 children, ages 2, 5, 10, 13 and 16, my only regret is that I was not able to spend much time with them. However, my 5 children turned out to be wonderful, smart and not surprisingly – very hard workers.