As we celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month at Xero, I have been reflecting on our theme, “Esta es mi gente” or “These are my people” and what it means to be part of a community that supports and uplifts one another. There is something truly special that happens when you find this community spirit.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see this unfold first-hand leading Xero’s US Hispanic team. We take pride in knowing that our communities in the US have large Hispanic and Spanish speaking populations, and we strive to change the game for Hispanic small business owners. Our goal is to help business owners improve how they manage their business finances, save them time and create time for what they love to do, like spending more time with their families.
Yet, no matter how good technology becomes, small businesses will always need the advice, support and coaching from an accountant or bookkeeper to enable long-term business success. This is the #human glue that fuels our community and I couldn’t be more proud to share the story of one of our Xero ambassadors and long-time partners, Gustavo Suarez, founder and CEO of JPG and his small business client Ramon Soriano, owner of La Calle Tacos, which opened in Houston, Texas in 2016. Their story exemplifies this idea of community so well and what we’re trying to create.
I asked them to share about their journey, the importance of community and the work they’ve been doing to support other Hispanic entrepreneurs and business owners.
Gustavo Suarez, Founder and CEO of JPG
Can you share your founding story and why you started your firm?
JPG provides accounting and finance services for small businesses across the United States. We help small businesses understand data from the past, which is accounting, and we look at this data to get a present picture of how a business is doing. From there, we can project and model the future for that business.
I’ve been an entrepreneur myself. When I first moved to the US from Colombia, I got my start running a 99 cent store. I made it my goal to interact with our customers and get to know them and their families on a personal level and understand why they were shopping with us.
My next venture exposed me to a gap in the market that led me to start JPG. At the time, I was deploying my families’ finances and looking for guidance from an advisor. I reached out to CPA firms who told me our business was too small or I would not be able to afford them. I finally received help from a tax preparation office who told me they would help with accounting and to bring in all my receipts. Someone with a calculator started punching in numbers and it became clear to me — how would we be able to forecast using a calculator? This experience showed me that the small business community in the US needs an affordable advisory service to help them throughout their journey, which is why I started JPG a few years later.
You’ve said before that you “don’t do accounting, but you develop the stories behind the numbers.” Tell us about how you bring that to life for your clients.
My client Ramon is the owner of a successful business called La Calle Tacos. When I think about his business and story, I ask what really drives consumers to eat La Calle Tacos? There are plenty of restaurants in Houston and other places that sell tacos. However, by understanding Ramon’s story and how his offering is different, we can identify the specific need in the market that his business provides. Ramon’s business connects customers with authentic tacos from Mexico City and that’s what I like to say is the connection between the numbers, story and the product. While our firm provides advisory and accounting services, it’s about building relationships with our clients and enabling our team to communicate and develop these stories behind the numbers — that’s where the magic really happens.
How does your firm support the Hispanic community?
The best way for me to articulate on this is through the experience I’ve had working alongside Ramon. From the beginning, it was never about being transactional. Instead, I saw it as my job and responsibility to help Ramon and his business partner grow La Calle Tacos.
I see this as my responsibility to help elevate all Latinos in the US and Latino small business owners. Latinos make up 19% of the total US population, having grown 23% since 2010. This is one of the fastest growing demographics in the country, and we have the opportunity to move from being decentralized to centralized, so we can continue to grow the community as a whole.
I’m proud to work alongside business owners, like Ramon, who are empowering the next generation of Hispanic entrepreneurs. There’s been a cultural shift with fine dining. Previously, it might have been considered eating at an Italian restaurant, but restaurants like La Calle are making tacos trendy, fashionable and cool. We’re bringing all Americans into this movement together. That’s the power of our message to new generations of Hispanic business owners.
Ramon Soriano, Owner of La Calle Tacos
Can you tell us about your business and how you got started?
I was born and raised in Mexico City and have always been in the restaurant industry. My current business partner and I were working for Burger King in Mexico 30 years ago. We’ve gone from selling burgers in Mexico to now selling tacos in the US.
When I first moved to the US, I noticed that everything tasted the same. Whether I was eating at an upscale restaurant or a fast food chain, it always had the same aftertaste. I learned this was because of all the chemicals and preservatives that are in a lot of food. However, making food without a freezer, without a microwave or without a can opener creates wonderful flavor profiles. I previously lived in Los Angeles, New York, Dallas and Miami and could never find the authentic flavors at restaurants like I was used to in Mexico. So when I came to Houston, I knew it was time to do my own thing.
Gustavo used the word ‘connect’ and that’s also what I wanted to create, a connection. Embedded into our restaurant’s DNA is stimulating the five senses. It’s not just about going to a restaurant and eating and maybe having good service. It’s the whole experience. A lot of the people who come to our restaurants can’t visit home. So we strive to create the experience of walking into our restaurant and feeling like you’re in Mexico City.
I love tacos more than anyone else, I mean who doesn’t like tacos? I have so much passion for this business and food. Opening my first restaurant was scary because I didn’t see any places like it. A nice, trendy, fun taqueria — there were none anywhere. I didn’t know if there weren’t any because there wasn’t a market for it or if no one had done it before. I would soon find out it was the latter. That’s something interesting for all Hispanic entrepreneurs, when they know how things are somewhere else, they can bring it here and start doing it because no one has done it before.
What are some of the challenges you faced when starting your business?
The biggest challenge, which is still something I face today, is that I’ve always been a restaurant operator. I have a lot of experience in the operations side of the business but I’ve never managed the admin side for the restaurant. All of the work with legal, accounting, permitting and licensing has been hard for me to grasp.
The other thing I found challenging was initially taking the leap and making the decision to start a business. In my last job, I had a nice six-figure salary, with health insurance, 401K and a comfortable life. Leaving that corporate safety net was a huge decision and a challenge.
The last thing is money. A lot of money goes into a new business. I got a loan from the SBA, had help from my mom as well as my savings. If it wasn’t for the SBA loan, I wouldn’t be here.
Those are the biggest challenges that I would caution people on and tell them to think about before going into entrepreneurship.
What motivates you as a business owner?
Years of experience and years of working for corporate America where I started to have better ideas than what we were doing. I was thinking of better ways to do things so instead of going rogue and doing my own thing within the corporation, I said “Let’s go and do my own thing!”
Also, there’s a clear gap in authentic Mexican food, not Tex-Mex, not Americanized, not regionalized. My restaurant is the exact same as you’d find in Mexico City. The salsas are super spicy and that’s who we are. We don’t try to regionalize it at all and I don’t try to put some items on my menu just to make everyone happy. I wanted to bring what I knew and grew up with to the US. I wanted to create it here because I didn’t see it, and that’s ultimately what made me say, “Let’s do it”.
What piece of advice would you give to a member of the Hispanic community looking to start their own business?
I always say make sure you know the business. A lot of people want to own restaurants because they cook well or they have a great recipe or their mom has an amazing recipe. That’s one piece of a dozen things you have to put together when running a restaurant.
Whatever business you want to open, make sure you work and have experience in the industry. If you want to own a restaurant, bus tables for a year and get to know the industry so you understand what’s going on. This will help you have a better grasp whenever you start your own business. After all, you don’t want to learn the business with your own money and investment, you need to learn it beforehand.
I would also advise people to just do it because there is no greater joy. I don’t take days off because I love being in the restaurant and being with guests. I haven’t worked a day since I opened, so I would encourage people to pursue entrepreneurship.
What’s next for La Calle and what are you most excited about?
When I opened over five years ago, I started to see that the business was doing really well, and we were having great sales month on month. Back then, I talked with one of my mentors who advised me to open three restaurants and have a good life. Of course, I haven’t listened to that advice!
A couple of years ago, I partnered with Fernando Villegas, the former CEO of Burger King, Mexico, who brings a lot of experience in the industry. I brought him over, and told him to leave corporate life, make tacos and grow this thing. That’s what I’m looking forward to. If you ask me how many restaurants or how much I want to grow, the answer is different every time. I am excited that now with three restaurants open, we can still tell the same story. I’ve talked with guests who tell me they’re visiting Houston and that La Calle Tacos would do great in their city and to please bring it there. I’m still trying to grasp how much I want to grow this business, but that’s definitely in our future.