Mexican immigrants Ramon and Maria Cardenas

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Build a 2nd Restaurant In the First’s Shadow?Mount, Ian . New York Times , Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y. [New York, N.Y]25 Aug 2011: B.5.ProQuest document linkABSTRACTFounded in 1985 by Mexican immigrants Ramon and Maria Cardenas, the restaurant describes its menu of moles,chile verde and enchiladas as “pre-Hispanic food, imperial Aztec cuisine and Moctezuma’s table.” Besides its sitdown restaurant business, the 130-employee company also has catering and fast-food operations.FULL TEXTRed Iguana is a family-owned Mexican restaurant in Salt Lake City. Founded in 1985 by Mexican immigrantsRamon and Maria Cardenas, the restaurant describes its menu of moles, chile verde and enchiladas as “preHispanic food, imperial Aztec cuisine and Moctezuma’s table.” Besides its sit-down restaurant business, the 130-employee company also has catering and fast-food operations.THE CHALLENGE To expand to a new location while surviving a disruptive public works project — a light rail linedown the middle of Red Iguana’s street — just as the restaurant was experiencing a rush of business from beingfeatured on the Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives.”THE BACKGROUND In 1965, Ramon and Maria Cardenas moved from the San Francisco Bay Area, where they wereworking in a restaurant, to Salt Lake City, where they took over a restaurant called Casa Grande. Their decision tonot modify Maria’s recipes from Chihuahua for the American palate may have slowed growth at first. “People werenot used to their kind of Mexican food,” said their daughter, Lucy. In the first years, annual revenue was about$25,000, but Maria and Ramon gradually built a following.In 1970, they moved Casa Grande downtown. Revenue continued to grow until urban decay and a recession hit inthe early 1980s. By 1984, Ramon was forced to take a cooking job in Park City to make ends meet, while Maria ranCasa Grande. In 1985, Ramon returned to open a four-table restaurant called Red Iguana in Salt Lake City’sworking-class west side. The restaurant did so well — it pulled in some $300,000 in its first year — that Maria wasable to close the ailing Casa Grande. After a fire burned down the new restaurant in June 1986, Ramon reopened10 blocks away at the current location.The reasonably priced Red Iguana developed a cultlike following. Its revenue grew every year, hitting $1.9 million in2003. But in 1998, Maria grew ill and required Ramon’s full-time care, which forced Lucy to make regular visits fromPortland, Ore., to oversee the business. After Maria died in 2002 and Lucy’s brother died of a brain aneurysm in2004, Ramon decided to sell. “He was exhausted and ready to throw in the towel,” said Lucy’s husband, Bill Coker.It was a delicate moment: Lucy and Mr. Coker wanted to take over the business, but they had to convince Ramonto look past his strict views of gender and family. “Because he was a son, a man, my father would have given mybrother the business,” Lucy said. “But we bought it from my dad. We got lawyers and accountants involved.” Plus,she added, “he wanted to sell the business to me, not me and my husband, because it’s family. It was at timespainful.”After paying Ramon $560,000 for the company in 2005, Ms. Cardenas and Mr. Coker sped up an incipientmodernization drive, improving the electrical system and buying the parking lot next door. Ms. Cardenas, who hadPDF GENERATED BY PROQUEST.COM Page 1 of 4worked as a wait staff trainer at various Hard Rock Cafes, had already brought in a computer system, which hadhelped professionalize the staff. “I wanted to turn it into full service, not, ‘Wham, bam, here you go, here’s yourcheck,’ like in a diner,” she said. To improve food consistency, she had her father cook each dish in front of herchefs so they could write down the recipes, which they had never done before for fear of recipe theft. Revenueincreased to $2.7 million in 2006 and $3.8 million in 2008.In 2008, the “Diners, Drive-ins and Dives” appearance and news of the coming light rail project changed thebusiness’s direction irrevocably. Scheduled to start in 2010, the multiyear project had the potential to dissuadecustomers from visiting and, during its most intense periods, close the restaurant — a huge loss for a one-locationbusiness that had been serving 700 people a day.THE OPTIONS When Mr. Coker saw the lines outside his restaurant, he thought of Sammy Davis Jr. Mr. Coker, 63,had spent 37 years in the entertainment business, and in the early 1980s he had worked as an assistant directorand production manager on a series of Burt Reynolds buddy comedies. On “The Cannonball Run,” Mr. Coker hadworked with Mr. Davis, Dean Martin and Roger Moore, stars who had become so popular, he believed, that they hadlost their identity. While driving Red Iguana’s branded van around town, he began to hear from locals who hadstopped coming to the restaurant because of the long wait and out-of-state crowds. “My experience in theentertainment industry taught me that that kind of popularity can flip and become a negative,” Mr. Coker said, “andonce it becomes a negative you become Planet Hollywood.”To relieve that tension, he decided, Red Iguana would add a second location. Upscale developers had been tryingto lure Red Iguana to their new malls and suburbs, but Ms. Cardenas and Mr. Coker owned a house a few blocksfrom their business and looked upon it as a child. “I love being able to get to my business so fast,” Ms. Cardenassaid. “I felt as the owner of the Red Iguana, I couldn’t live anywhere else.”While deciding on a location for their second restaurant, they heard about a warehouse for sale for $259,000 justtwo blocks from their first restaurant. The barrel-roof building was the definition of industrial chic, with a concretepad that could be used for patio dining and with views of a power station and its three 320-foot smokestacks tothe west and the cityscape and snowcapped Wasatch Mountains to the east. But to get the money to buy anddevelop the location, they would have to convince Zions Bank and the Salt Lake City Office of EconomicDevelopment that it was a good idea to build a sister restaurant two blocks from the first. The lenders wereskeptical.The restaurant owners had to make several choices quickly, before the rail construction began.WHAT OTHERS SAY Danny Meyer, founder of Union Square Hospitality Group, which includes Union Square Cafeand Gramercy Tavern: “Though it has worked for some — Nobu, Nobu Next Door — I would absolutely not adviserepeating the same concept so close to the first. It’s confusing to patrons, and you may inadvertently hurt moraleas staff members will invariably feel they might not be working in the better of the two.”Anton Schulte, co-owner of Bistro Daisy in New Orleans: “I would probably just hunker down financially and try toweather the business interruption storm. I don’t know their financials but, at the level of business that they saythey are at, I would assume they have a little bit of money in reserves.”Charles Phan, owner, The Slanted Door and other restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area: “I would strictly lookto expansion only if you have a niche in the market that needs to be filled or you’re bringing something new to thetable and it is interesting to you and the customer. I wouldn’t do it just because there are extra people around thecorner. For me, it never works to redirect somebody to a second location with the same name.”THE RESULTS Offer your thoughts on Red Iguana’s choice on the You’re the Boss blog at Nextweek, on the blog and in this space, we will explain how things have worked out for Ms. Cardenas and Mr. Coker.PDF GENERATED BY PROQUEST.COM Page 2 of 4PhotographBill Coker and Lucy Cardenas Own the Red Iguana Restaurant in Salt Lake City, Above. (Photographs by Jeffrey D.Allred for the New York Times)DETAILSSubject: Light rail transportation; Restaurants; Expansion; Public worksLocation: Salt Lake City UtahCompany / organization: Name: Red Iguana; NAICS: 722110Publication title: New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast); New York, N.Y.Pages: B.5Publication year: 2011Publication date: Aug 25, 2011Section: BPublisher: New York Times CompanyPlace of publication: New York, N.Y.Country of publication: United States, New York, N.Y.Publication subject: General Interest Periodicals–United StatesISSN: 03624331CODEN: NYTIAOSource type: NewspapersLanguage of publication: EnglishDocument type: NewsProQuest document ID: 885039233Document URL: Copyright New York Times Company Aug 25, 2011Last updated: 2017-11-18PDF GENERATED BY PROQUEST.COM Page 3 of 4LINKSCheck for full text in other resourcesDatabase copyright  2021 ProQuest LLC. 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