Rural restaurant owner stays hopeful despite slow recovery from the pandemic

After working as a rescue specialist at a fire department in Mexico City for many years, Hector Chavez and his family moved to the United States so he could pursue certifications and advance his career. But 10 years later and out of opportunities to continue his passion, Hector decided to open Plaza Garibaldi, a Mexican restaurant in Soledad, Calif. 

He shares, “My wife’s family owns a couple of restaurants on the Mexican border, and we were inspired by their journey as business owners. The legacy they are building for themselves and their children is something I wanted for my family as well, which is why I opened Plaza Garibaldi six years ago. I’ve never looked back.”

As a rural small business owner, Hector knows and understands the limitations of living and working in a remote community. “We’re surrounded by farms and not much more,” he says. While he usually doesn’t think much about the size of Soledad and its surrounding areas, the COVID-19 pandemic is shining a light on the disadvantages of owning a rural small business.

When the pandemic first became widespread, Hector saw immediate effects to his bottom line. Given California’s changes in public health orders, restaurateurs like Hector tried their best to adjust operations to continue to serve their communities. But when he tried to set up his business for outdoor dining, he unfortunately discovered it didn’t comply with local rules. He shares, “My building doesn’t have a designated outdoor area, so I thought I could set one up for my business. Little did I imagine I’d get in trouble for devising an outlet for my business to survive.”

Thus, Hector’s indoor operations have been closed for more than a year, and he only offers take out and delivery.

He commented, “Revenues have been consistently down by 10-15% throughout the pandemic and on top of that, my commercial lease was increased twice as well. I’m deeply indebted to my landlord and the deferment period will be up soon. I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but I’m hoping the situation will turn around.”

What’s more, he didn’t qualify for most relief programs due to his immigration status and for the ones he qualified for, he was placed at the bottom of the queue. Small business owners like Hector couldn’t compete with surrounding businesses and most of the relief funding for Soledad went to farmers.

But in true entrepreneurial fashion, Hector isn’t afraid of rising to the challenge. 

He says, “We know how to work and how to start from scratch. I may not be on an even playing field, but I will continue to focus on what’s in front of me. I’m thankful to God for the opportunity to be where I am today, and I’m confident in my ability to get back up.”

Small Business Profile