Three generations of family contribute to success of butcher shop in southwest Detroit

This article is the third in a series exploring the joys and challenges of running a family-owned business. Read the first two entries on Danto Furniture and Detroit Green Carrot.

A few years ago, Salvador Enriquez nearly closed down his family business. It took his daughter's entrepreneurial eye to see the potential for growth and convince the Mexican immigrant to instead expand his butcher shop, Carniceria Guadalajara. 

After watching her father operate a successful butchery within a taqueria, Adriana Hernandez saw an opportunity, and together the family opened a full-service meat market of their own.

"I tried to close," Enriquez says. "But my daughter said, 'No — teach me.'"

So that's what he did. 

Enriquez moved to Detroit in 1999 from Los Angeles, where he had immigrated after leaving his hometown of Guadalajara, Mexico. When he arrived in Michigan, he realized his new Springwells neighborhood lacked a traditional meat market, so he decided to remedy that.

Salvador Enriquez
Carniceria Guadalajara began as counter space, but skills Salvador Enriquez picked up from his abuela’s cooking soon saw his butcher shop become a neighborhood darling. 

It wasn't until his daughter (a ProsperUS Detroit graduate) encouraged him to expand, however, that the business really came into its own. Carniceria Guadalajara received a Motor City Match grant in 2016 and their 2,900-square-foot market space on Lawndale Street opened in March this year.

Hernandez helps with bookkeeping, customer service, and butchering. "I am very proud of her," Enriquez says. "Adriana is the only one of my children who is interested in continuing the business."

Now, both generations are looking to the future, with Adriana's two daughters involved in the shop. Vanessa Hernandez, 21, works at the store and Emily Hernandez, 11, is learning about cashier duties. For Enriquez, this is a family legacy. He would like to see Vanessa support Adriana one day, as Adriana supports him now.

But there's a hitch: Taking on the family business is not what Vanessa wants for her future.

"I want to study psychology and criminal justice," she says. 

While this may seem like a deal-breaker for most family businesses, the Enriquez/Hernandez clan have found ways of still supporting each other. While Vanessa Hernandez is saving for courses at Henry Ford, and then hopes to go on to the University of Michigan, she sees no reason she can't still be there for her mother. 

"It's nice knowing and learning about the business world, so I can help her in the future."

For now, that’s exactly what Vanessa Hernandez is doing, gaining experience in the day-to-day running of Carniceria Guadalajara. She sees the value of what their shop contributes to their community and knows what the business means to nearby residents.

"There are a lot of people who can't get what they need anywhere else."

Exterior of Carniceria Guadalajara

The Carniceria Guadalajara family (from left to right): Salvador, Emily Hernandez, Adriana Hernandez, and Martin Hernandez
Working for her grandfather and mother has also taught her life lessons that she will take into any profession she pursues. Their tenacity and perseverance is something she deeply admires, despite sometimes butting heads with her grandfather. 

"They both never give up," she says. "I think that's something amazing that not all parents pass onto their children."

Matthew Bihun, senior loan officer at Prosper US Detroit, says one of the biggest challenges to family-run businesses can be balancing the family dynamic. His advice to families going into business is to be realistic and plan for disagreements. 

"Because it's family, you're in it for life," he says. "Having to make both big and small decisions, without disruption, can be challenging."

It's this element, however, that Bihun argues can also be an advantage for businesses like Enriquez's.

"At Guadalajara, they've done a really good job of carving out very defined roles for each member of the family," he says. 

Enriquez cuts beef tongue
It hasn't all been smooth sailing since the family went out on its own. Enriquez admits having an independent store is a challenge, and that the recent freeway closures nearby have hurt business. Winter will be a slower time, too.

"A lot of our customers work in construction," he says. "And now, with winter, that season's done."

But Vanessa Hernandez has some ideas to help down the line.

"There's an outdoor space that we could expand in the summertime and have parties that we could cater," she says. "We may do that next year."

Whichever path she chooses, it's clear she will always be invested in, and a proud supporter of, the family business.

This article is part of Michigan Nightlight, a series of stories about the programs and people that positively impact the lives of Michigan kids. It is made possible with funding from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. Read more in the series here.

Photos by Nick Hagen
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Read more articles by Kate Roff.

Kate Roff is an award-winning freelance writer and journalism educator, currently based out of Detroit. She is the managing editor of Metromode and Model D. Contact her at [email protected]