It’s early morning and it will be the only time this parking lot is empty for the rest of the day. The restaurant won’t be open for another 3 hours, but the staff have begun to trickle in, getting operations prepped for the next twelve hours of service. Two massive fountains flank both sides of the entrance. Alejandro Lopez, Co-Owner of Mi Mexico, sees my camera strapped around my chest and says they look more picturesque when they’re turned on. While the water begins its cascade down the marble molding of the fountain, Alejandro, who prefers to go by Alex, ushers us inside the restaurant.
Promptly greeted by fellow Co-Owner Ricardo Vazquez, we begin to set up for the interview.
Locals to the area will know that Mi Mexico recently changed locations - by about 500 yards. “We became more exposed to the main road. It benefits our chances to get new customers and maybe even people come from Canada, we are right at the entrance to the city, so customers get to see us immediately,” said Alex. Mi Mexico had been leasing a building adjacent to the road leading to Walmart since 2008. This new location is now directly on Highway 83, known as Broadway as it runs through Minot. Souris Basin’s Business Financing Programs were used by the owners to buy down the interest and invest in equipment for the establishment. Better availability wasn’t the only upside to the move, “We got a bigger kitchen, the design of the building is more welcoming to customers.”
Alex would be right. This building was designed as a restaurant, while their previous space was an old commercial building that they outfitted with a kitchen. “Returning customers are so happy our location has improved,” said Ricardo, “We got a bigger parking lot, and it still fills up fast.” They both joked that Walmart still has plenty of space for vehicles, so customers need not fret, only ask that they walk a bit further.
From the owner’s point of view, much of Mi Mexico’s success stems from being a family business. Alex, Ricardo, and fellow co-owner Ramon Jara are all brother in-laws. Ricardo goes into depth about why their business contributes to a larger positive narrative, “Support. All our kids are working here, it’s the backbone of the store."
"In Mexico, all members of the family help each other, and we try to emulate that into the restaurant. The oldest help the littler ones. We try to do this all together.”
It’s clear if you have ever eaten at Mi Mexico, you feel that same familial flavor to the food as if your own mother had made it. The family dynamic can have its challenges, however. What if the whole family wants to go on a much-needed vacation? “We could, but we don’t want to hurt our customers feelings,” lamented Ricardo, “We need something like this, but it’s hard. We have customers that come two or three times a week, and we see that support and we wouldn’t want to disappoint them, even if they might understand.”
Mi Mexico’s use of SBPC programs allowed them to also accrue savings that they otherwise would have to use on expenses, and they used these savings to hire new employees and invest in their current staff, as well as offering competitive pay and potential benefits in the future. Expansion is always in the back of their minds, but they only want to do that if they can first succeed where it matters most, “We used to have the food truck and the place in the mall, and it made us really stretch for help,” explained Alex. “If we can’t have a second store, let’s grow in the first store. If this is our dream, we must make it the best it can be before we have the means to expand.” Ricardo continued, “Helping keep our employees is very important. It gives us the ability to keep people with experience. We couldn’t do that without SBPC’s programs, especially with the new building costs.”
The dreams don’t stop with Mi Mexico. Alex has been an experienced entrepreneur for well over fifteen years and has never shied away from a project he thinks has value. And if it means he can work with his family, that’s especially true. That’s how Magic City Car Wash came to be with his other brother in-law, Gabe Holt. “Initially, we bought the property for another restaurant, but we realized with the struggles we were having with currently hiring employees, we looked into another direction,” said Alex, “We saw the vision for the car wash as being different than what we normally do. Minot needed something like this on the north side of town.” Magic City Car Wash’s sleek exterior is complimented by its inviting atmosphere. An impossible to miss full size, fully restored cherry red Chevrolet pick-up truck tops the entrance sign. Wacky waving inflatable tube men rise and fall in a dance of colors. Your eyes are drawn to this place. If you didn’t want a car wash, you do now, and you’ll be glad you did.
Alex greets us, now dressed in the car wash’s signature bright red polo shirt, along with business partner and brother in-law, Gabe Holt. After a quick tour of the inner facilities, Gabe is eager to answer any questions, “We’re happy with how it turned out. We did a lot of work on the front end, doing studies, so we had a model to follow and that’s been a success,” proudly, he continues, “The community has been very responsive to our wash, there is not a lot of services on North Hill so people were really happy about that. We’re very personable and have had a lot of great reviews and a lot of happy, returning customers.”
Lopez and Holt made a request through SBPC’s Business Accelerator Program for funding to purchase the property where the car wash would be built, along with the adjoining lot. When asked what it means to go into business with family, Gabe had this to say, “We have like-minded ideas of how to run a business, we are both hands on, that chemistry as partners is what works well.” Much like the restaurant, you may find any number of family members working the car wash, “Three of my kids have worked here,” said Gabe, “Alex’s kids have worked here at some point, and we currently have a few other family members working here. It’s nice to have those backups when you need them.” Gabe shares that even though many places are struggling to hire reliable workers, their mentality is to make working at the wash desirable,
“We spend a lot of time with the young folks to cultivate their skills, not make it a dead-end job. We want them to grow.”
Gabe talks candidly about how the success of their business has been down to the standard they set at the very start, “That’s the biggest challenge for us, keeping our standards and maintaining the business and not letting it slip. Once it starts to get away from you, it takes a lot longer to get it back.”
If it has ever been your dream to own a business, does that dream involve doing it with your family? Let’s ask Gabe, “Don’t be shy to ask questions and don’t be afraid of the answers.” Or Ricardo and Alex, “It will be hard, but be eager to give time to it, you’ll see the fruits of your labor,” said Ricardo, “You just have to be willing to give your time and pull your efforts to do something that you love. The community saw that we were humble and embraced us. Little by little the support will grow and make you better,” added Alex. It is always said the path to happiness and success is fraught with tough times. Perhaps when the going gets tough, and your family is with you, the tough gets going much sooner.