WINTHROP - Near the end of the boardwalk in the small western-themed town of Winthrop, the inviting smell of Mexican cuisine wafts out of the Winthrop Palace building. Inside, restaurant owner Carlos Perez greets the growing lunch crowd at Carlos 1800 Cantina.
Open since April 2010, Carlos 1800 is the culmination, or perhaps the first chapter, of a dream Perez has had his entire life - a dream that is coming true with the help of WSU’s Small Business Development Centers (SBDC).
“As a child in Mexico I worked for my father, who owned 10 taquerías (taco shops),” said Perez. “We settled in Chicago when I was 14 and continued to embrace the culture of Mexican cooking.”
After working for years to perfect his cooking techniques, Perez eventually brought his family to the Methow Valley. The area lacked a traditional Mexican restaurant, and the time was right to start his own business.
With 24 years of experience, Perez possessed the skill and passion necessary to thrive in the difficult restaurant business; however, he lacked the startup capital that a successful venture would require.
Fortunately for Perez, the SBDC had a presence in the area - business adviser Lew Blakeney.
“Carlos Perez is exactly the type of individual that the SBDC is set up to help,” said Blakeney. “He is a tireless worker and has the entrepreneurial spirit that a startup business needs in order to succeed.”
With the SBDC’s hands-on guidance, market research was performed and a business plan and financial projection were completed. With these in hand, Perez was able to obtain funding to proceed.
A restaurant in the Winthrop Palace building had been closed for several years, and the owner agreed to share the expense of improvements to revive the historic structure. Perez personally poured himself into the remodeling process, bringing in local contractors where necessary.
As it approaches its one-year anniversary, Carlos 1800 is thriving and embraced by the Winthrop community.
Perez also is giving back to the community. Up to 25 local employees were on staff during the peak summer months, and he is committed to staying open through the slower winter period. The grill and cantina have added catering services and a media-ready meeting room. Perez's business supports fundraisers and other community activities.
Gathering his four children and fiancée around him, Perez discusses his future plans, which include a second restaurant in the Methow Valley and eventual expansion into the Puget Sound area and beyond.
“My oldest daughter is in college studying business finance, and I hope to have her rejoin the business after graduation,” he said, noting that the entire family was working on this particular day.
Perez is quick to credit the resources of the SBDC as integral to his success: “Lew was a terrific adviser and I was so pleased to have the SBDC’s network available to help me.”
Asked about what it takes for a small businessman to succeed in a difficult economy, Perez cited the long hours, personal risk and dedication required to overcome the various challenges.
“Many people don’t do their homework before going into business. It is important to avoid mistakes, which is why professional advice is so valuable,” he said.
“There are no roads that lead to happiness and no ladders waiting to lead us to success,” Perez said. “An authentic life is something that must be created out of passion and values.”
Perez flashed his disarming grin as he quoted a favor¬ite saying: “The better your attitude, the higher your altitude.”