June 29, 2007

Taco Shop Getting Props for Being the Fabric of City Life

Sombrero Mexican Food wins SBA award

By Raymond R. Beltran

Good luck finding quality taco shops outside of sunny San Diego.

That’s probably a narrow-minded nativist pride in a city that has been bombarded by a tourist scene in the past decade, but it’s a statement not without a professional second opinion.

Javier Correa Sr., who along with his son is receiving the Small Business Association’s Small-Minority Business of the Year Award this week, knows all too well the pride San Diegans have in their one stop shop taquerias.

Javier Correa Senior and Javier Junior.

Sheez, the guy gets calls and emails from patrons about the pros and cons of his chain of Sombrero Mexican Food restaurants, you’d think he was selling electronics.

“Mexican food is a lot different in California than anywhere else,” Correa says. “And San Diego has a unique style … there’s a lot of taco shops. It’s part of the culture.”

And he’s right. Taco shops like Sombreros are sewn into fabric of San Diego culture. They are a youth hangout after school, the working person’s one hour lunch break or just one of the few 24 hour drive-thru venues for midnight munchies after a nightclub.

And locally, they’re the only recognizable buildings that can compete with Starbucks for dominating city blocks.

“We get compliments and suggestions all the time,” says general manager and son, Javier Correa Jr., about their patrons. “It just shows they have expectations for us, so that’s good.”

The Sombrero Mexican Food was nominated for the SBA’s Small-Minority Business Award by Wells Fargo Bank, and won this week.

From a one building business on top of the Golden Hills community with two employees back in ’82 to having twelve locations and almost 130 people on the payroll, business has been pretty good for the Correas.

“I just said I’m going to do this,” he says. “My wife was the original cashier and twenty three years later, here we are.”

The youner Javier was born only two years after the first restaurant was opened by his father and he grew up in the business. Maning the drive-thru window at ten years old, his later professional life intertwined with it, earning a business management degree from University of Phoenix.

His father just dived into the small business racket with $4,000 in his pocket and some slight know-how, his father having owned a panadería in the neighborhood before him.

“Small businesses are the backbone of our economy,” says Jovita Carranza, deputy administrator of the SBA. “They drive innovation that keeps our country competitive, and provide opportunity for millions.”

She says that in San Diego, eighty percent of businesses are considered small buisnesses.

“We’re definitely flying with it,” Correa Sr. says. “We’re happy being one hundred percent in control of our company.”

The family also flourishes while supporting local businesses like his own. The carne asada burrito, which is their most popular menu item, is created with products from Tommie’s Quality Meats in Logan Heights.

Sombrero’s won the SBA award by first being nominated by Wells Fargo Bank. They had to receive a certain amount of points in categories like Staying Power, Growth in Number of Employees, Increase in Sales, Innovative Services Offered, and Current and Past Financial Status.

With a strong customer base supporting five more stores opening up this year, the business didn’t go unnoticed.

Nominations come from the entire San Diego and Imperial Valley County areas from local media, chambers of commerce, lenders and business associations. This year Sombrero’s was nominated unopposed in the Small-Minority Business category.

Although, that doesn’t take away from their hard work and the actual role they play in San Diego culture. The Correa family know their role and impact on the community. Heck, they’re working so hard, they didn’t even know they’d been nominated, or had even won.

“We keep busy and stay focused on our customers,” Correa Sr. says. “It’s very competative and we’re pretty stern about keeping clean and keeping our employees know-ledgeable … because it’s part of our culture. Mexican food is convenient. It can be breakfast, lunch or dinner and so many people know us now.”

“These business owners that we’re honoring are excellent role models that reflect the vitality of both San Diego and this country,” said Carranza.

The awards which were handed out at the Marriot Hotel this Thursday, June 28, were in conjunction with the U.S. President’s annual Small Business Recognition Week that has been in affect for 54 years.

Other business of the year awardees were Aldrica Lattimore who owns Accurate Engineering Integrated Construction Services in the Women-Owned Small Business category and Jeffrey Jordan of Rescue Social Change Group in the Young Entrepreneur category.

In total, there were eleven awards in various categories like best veteran business and best lenders of the year.

“How do we do it?” contemplates young Javier, who will adopt the Sombrero chain one day. “Looking at the basics, I guess just providing good quality Mexican food you can’t get at other places … we’re kind of modest, but it feels good to win the award.”

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