What do you need to be an entrepreneur?
To be a good entrepreneur-because these days EVERYONE is an entrepreneur-you need to have a vision that you believe in and that drives you to make that vision a reality. Then, of course, you need to be organized, ambitious and self-confident. You can't let anyone deter you from realizing your goal, from attaining that dream that mobilized you in the first place.
What inspired you to start your business?
My parents bake bread for a living and work out of our home in Mexico. I grew up watching not only their technical skill in executing great bread but also their entrepreneurial spirit: they always sold their product! They taught me a great work ethic and they inspire me still, every day to excel. When I came to the United States, I started at the very bottom of the totem pole so to speak, as a delivery boy. But nothing was beneath me and I learned every facet of this difficult food industry. When I finally got the opportunity to run my own restaurant, there was nothing that I did not do or could not do. The business felt mine because I had cleaned the bathrooms, I had run the register, I had delivered the food and cooked the food. I felt confident in my abilities because I knew how to do every job in the restaurant.
How did you finance it?
I saved for many years. There were no tricks or gimmicks. I worked very, very hard. I worked long hours. I lived frugally and I saved. When the opportunity came to take over the Pita Grill restaurant, I seized the chance and was ready financially. However, I did need some financial help. I received funding through Fora Financial when I needed to fund restaurant renovations shortly after taking over ownership. Fora Financial helped me a great deal. If you can find funding with a low interest rate, it can be a great financial tool. It can help push you that extra step further.
Does being Hispanic/Latino have any influence on your business?
No. Not at all.
In the face of adversity, how do you decide to drive ahead?
My experience and my knowledge push me to excel and when I am faced with difficulties, I just push through. I never stop or complain. I never lament. I just keep going looking for the pot at the end of the rainbow. I never forget what brought me to where I am today. I never forget how lucky I am. I never forget that original vision.
What is the biggest challenge your business has faced?
The biggest challenge in the food business is the big chain competition. Competing with Chipotle, Dunkin' Donuts, Starbucks, etc. is tough! These big corporate food chains have huge financial backing and huge advertising budgets. They detract from smaller businesses and open so many stores within 1 square mile, that it takes a great deal of skill to keep a food business open. It is a case of Simon and Goliath. But I never lose faith in Simon and in us small business owners. It is important also, as a consumer that you make purchase choices that help other small businesses. I try to buy my coffee at the bodega near my house and I like to make local grocery purchases. Every day we can make choices that help each other out, that can help our communities not get enveloped by the huge corporate chains that want to take over every facet of your daily life from pharmaceutical needs to pizza and coffee etc. Just remember Simon and Goliath and contribute to the struggle as best you can.
If you could change one thing about your business. What would it be?
I don't think I would change anything about my business. When I want to change something, I change it! I can, however, think of things I would like to add. I would like to drive sales up by taking advantage more of the area my restaurant is in. We are near Port Authority and in the heart of Chelsea. I would like to introduce more people to Pita Grill. I am planning to take steps toward this goal this year: advertising, word-of-mouth campaigns, social media etc.
What was your childhood ambition?
Most of all I want to be a good human being. I think being a businessman does not mean that my moral virtues have to fall by the wayside. I think these can, instead, help me to make my business better in the end. I grew up in a very poor family. For a time we had no place to live and worked in the street. I always dreamed about coming to the United States and I always dreamed of making my parents proud and becoming a success. At the end of the day, I care most about taking care of others and keeping close to the good moral principals that my parents instilled in me. I am proud of where I came from and I love the idea of helping others too, aspire to dream big and realize their dreams.
Tell us about three entrepreneurs that you admire.
Carlos Slim. Donald Trump. Jorge Ramos.
For business meetings, which do you prefer: breakfast, lunch, or dinner?
Lunch. Definitely lunch.
What sacrifices in your personal life did you have to make in order to become successful in your business?
My sacrifices have truly been great. For the last 16 years I have not been able to see my family in Mexico, not been able to hug my mother or kiss my father. I miss them so much and this sacrifice hurts a lot, it truly does. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think of everyone I grew up with and long to abrazarlos.
I am devoted to my business and I spend my days, my nights, my weekends, and my holidays working. I love being a businessman and I know what it takes to succeed; but, yes, the sacrifices have been great.
What is your favorite quote?
“The biggest thing in life is not money, it is not power, it is not a position that you hold; it is what you hold in your heart and your mind. Your heart and your mind have no limitations and their potential is never-ending.”
Is it difficult to be unconventional?
No, not at all. When you have a goal, nothing holds you back. There are no limits or conventions or traditional paths. You just work toward your goal, you just realize it.
Biggest mistake made?
I don't think there are mistakes. But there are weaknesses. I tend to trust people too quickly. I should be more wary. I should be more cautious. I am working toward this. I am always a work-in-progress!
Do you consider yourself an innovator? Why?
I do sometimes. I like to bring new concepts to existing businesses and I love to help business evolve. That means I have to observe a lot. I need to watch the needs of the clientele and adapt to suit their needs.
Description of your company:
Pita Grill is an eclectic and healthy concept that was born in New York City and which I feel proud to be a part of. We sell fast-food cuisine with all-natural ingredients; we don't believe in serving processedfood and make all our food in-house. Our extensive menu offers things such as hummus, fish tacos,smoothies, pita sandwiches. We serve food in a relaxed atmosphere and believe in always serving food with a smile. We are always happy to serve you or fulfill your catering needs. See website www.pitagrill.com