Please share a little bit about your business.
Taco Especial is a Mexican restaurant that was established in 1979 by my mother and father. After my parents got married, they had a dream they wanted to open a Mexican restaurant. My father took several years to find a little location, and they decided on the city of Ecorse. We serve the Downriver community, and the Wyandotte area. My father recently made me the president, and has given me full control of the restaurant. He does still have a percentage, but I oversee the everyday operations, and I have been doing that now for about 20 years, but he made it official about four years ago. I also have a sibling who works here. He is a line cook, and makes orders for the customers at the restaurant. For a business, like my parents, that started back in 1979, and now here I am, their daughter, running it for them, I hope that Taco Especial will be around for another 10 to 15 years.
What would you say inspired you to plant business roots in the Ecorse community?
Well, we lived in Lincoln Park, which is, actually, not very far from here, like five minutes from the restaurant. So I think my father, at that time, was wanting to find something on a big road, first of all, which was Southfield, and he had looked at several locations, but this one caught his eye, I think, because he thought people may pass it to get to the river since we're right there by the Detroit River. So this actual little building used to be a few things, including a card shop and an ice cream store before my parents bought it.
How have you been able to find or access capital needed for your business?
That's a good question because, in all honesty, people who start up a business, put their own money into it. They get either personal loans, they take out equity against their assets that they have, and that's what my parents did. We did a small remodel back in like 1990, and then we did a second remodel in 2019. I actually remember going to the bank with my mother and father. At the time, I was a senior in high school, but I went with them to see the guidelines to apply for this loan that my dad wanted to do these renovations at the restaurant back then. And so, me being the oldest, I went with them to guide them, help them read the paperwork and see what it was. And, at that time, they actually wanted my parents to put the restaurant and their house up as equity. And I just remember telling my dad I don't think this is a good idea because it's one thing to lose the business if something happens and we can't make these payments, but it's a second thing to lose our house. So my dad ended up getting another different kind of loan, and then he took out some money from his investments. When we did our remodel in 2019, again, we went to apply for a loan, but we went through the credit union this time, and I did end up putting the restaurant as collateral, but it wasn't for a very big loan, so I was comfortable, at this time, with putting up the restaurant now, and paying it off in so many years.
What are your current business goals?
One of my long-term goals would be to get a food trailer. You see them everywhere. They have Taco festivals in Royal Oak and downtown Detroit, and I think Taco Especial would really good for people to try different flavor food because you see a lot of the food trucks that sell the taqueria-style tacos. It's the tacos with the cilantro and steak tacos, or people sell the quesadillas and the tortillas, but I would definitely put at least five items on that menu that people would be like, "Where have you been all this time? Why did it take you so long to do this?" But I guess it's just finding the time, finding the trailer. I want to be custom-built like my kitchen that we did here at the restaurant. I would want to get my trailer custom-made for what I want it to serve, so that is one of my goals.
What would you say are some resources you need to achieve those goals?
For me, I would say wanting to learn how to do more like social media because everything's changing nowadays, everything's on social media, everybody creates these things, and everybody's on their phones on a day-to-day basis. I would like to know how to market the business. I do post on our Facebook page, but to be able to step it up a notch with how people are presenting their food and how they're writing it and how they're describing it to draw that new customer who's flipping through their phone be like, oh, "Where's that place at? I've never heard of that." And to say, "You know what? I'm going to go try it out."
If someone came to you and gave you the best resource guidance for your business goals, what would support from that resource look like for you?
If someone were to offer a class on how to do social media or how to get your business started with the fundamentals, that would be great. I would sign up for that. I would pay for that if it was something that was going to help me. Just the general stuff like how to really just get it out there, how to really say or do certain things like a special that you want to do during the week or during the month, and it's not going to cost you a lot of money. I have ideas. I just don't know how to format it and word it where it sounds good.
Fill in the blank: _____ has been a really good resource for me. Please share how or why.
Honestly, I would say social media has been a big resource in trying to get information, see other people's talents, other people who are opening up their business. And I follow these communities with women who are independent and who are starting their business, or they have these conferences that you want to attend. For me, social media has helped me say, "Hey, you know what? Maybe I'm going to try that or maybe I'm going to look into that, and see how true it is."
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in starting, growing, or sustaining your business?
The biggest challenge, I would say, has been over the past 15 years. After 9/11 happened, and then the recession. There was a point where we weren't sure if we were going to make it. It just was the unknown, and I didn't have so many employees working because it was slow. We were just trying to stay afloat just to basically pay the bills, pay the employees, and that was it. There was no profit. I remember that time where it was like, man, what are my parents going to do? This is their legacy, their money that they put into all these years. But, things took a turn around. Things got better. And then in 2019, when I decided to do this remodel it took like four months for us to open back up with inspections with the new gas meter, with all the equipment. At that time, we thought we were only going to be closed for two months, and here it turned into four months. When we finally opened back up, we were super, super busy. Customers were so happy we were open. And then, bam, here comes February of 2020. Here comes Covid. People were scared. People didn't want to leave their houses. And it was a very scary feeling to know I had all this overhead, and money wasn't coming in how I thought it was going to be, but we made it. We're still here standing.
If you met a new business owner in the community, what is the first resource you would recommend connecting them with to help them succeed within your city? Who would you connect them with outside of your city?
So, here in Ecorse, there's not a lot of restaurants here. We only have, I believe, about five restaurants. Taco Especial, Auburn Cafe. Downriver there's a Coney Island, and then there's Grand Port Grill, I believe. So I think we only have, well, there's five now. There's a barbecue chicken place that just opened up. But I'm not really connected with the restaurant entrepreneurs in Ecorse. Sadly, I hate to say it, but I don't really know them. And that's one of the things I keep telling some of the council people. I said we need more restaurants. We need people to want to open some kind of an establishment here in Ecorse. Why is everyone going to the next city? Why don't we invest in the city? And I wish they would. I wish they would just take a chance and say, "Let's try this little small town." But I don't know why people just kind of shy away, and just kind of skip our town.
What would you say is a shared issue, concern or challenge among the entrepreneurs and small businesses in your community?
I'd have to say everything's going to be a challenge in life, honestly. whatever you want to do or to open whatever kind of business it may be. I think if you have the right resources, and you can find the resources for that help or reach out to someone that you know who has a business to kind of guide you and help you, I think that will be helpful for you to overcome any challenges to become an entrepreneur. My number one thing is always support the small businesses because we're just like everybody else. We're not trying to get rich and become millionaires. We're just trying to survive and, instead of always going to the big chain, support the small mom-and-pop shops, too.
All photos by Nick Hagen.