The New Mexico Small Business Development Center awarded three business, La Cocina Restaurant, Hacienda Home Center and Mentality Solutions this year with the Star business award.
Referring to La Cocina, Northern New Mexico College Small Business Center Director Julliana Barbee said, “They added the portal, which made their business better and it grew during the pandemic, they did that all to grow during the economic crisis. He really expanded as well, He was able to move forward and keep employees busy and learning other skills, everything he was doing actually made his business better.”
Javier Sanchez, the co-owner of La Cocina said he realized early during the pandemic that things weren’t going to be over quickly and that they would need to do some long term changes to prepare for the pandemic early on.
“What we decided at that time we could either stick to doing takeout only or we could open opportunities by creating outside setting,” Sanchez said. “We had a small patio, we knew we would have to provide a lot more outdoor setting, expanding with a concrete dining area, and some posts to put up shade sails. A whole new, not just patio, but dining experience, we knew this wasn’t going to go away right away, we knew that if we wanted to do well we would need to give people the feeling of comfort and distance and do everything we could to use our COVID safe distance practices.”
Food supply chain issues have been a problem for restaurants, including La Cocina.
“Supply chain has been an absolute nightmare, one of things we’ve been working hard at is giving our customers the usual thing they’ve been ordering for a long to give them a sense of continuity,” Sanchez said. “Luckily beef has come down but at the beginning of the pandemic it almost tripled in price. PPE gloves have doubled in price and have not come down. Trying to find enough hand sanitizer in the middle of the pandemic was really hard. Only now have we decided to raise some of our prices, during the pandemic we kept everything as it has been so we just hate to eat that cost.”
To go ordering has dramatically increased at La Cocina. Sanchez said previously about 10 percent of their orders were take out while now the percentage is closer to 40. Supply chain issues were a problem there as well as paper containers are now sometimes harder to come by then usual.
He said the virus had taken a major toll on his employees. Uncertainty from changes in closure orders from the governor, or if people would even have jobs was a stressful Sanchez said.
“We had to unfortunately lay off a couple of people, we have hired some back,” he said. “The strain of the corona virus can be felt at the employee level, the changes in orders opening and closing causes extreme stress, my task is to assure them the harder we work the more likely we will be to succeed. These guys have worked so tremendously hard and I just couldn’t do it without them.”
Mentality Solutions is a coaching business owned by Vera Jo Bustos originally started in Las Vegas but is now based out of Española. Mentality Solutions has been working with the Center to find ways to reach student athletes during the pandemic.
“I’ve been helping her with her business to take it into a whole different direction,focusing on students, athletes and educators during this trying time,” Barbee said.
By focusing on YouTube videos for training courses Bustos has been able to start developing a national profile.
Joe Sanchez the vice president Hacienda Home Center said they were able to expand their business during the pandemic including opening a new store in Albuquerque.
“Our industry was considered essential throughout the pandemic we were fortunate and blessed being able to stay open the whole time,” Sanchez said. “Very early on we implemented a lot of safety measure before they were required of us, so we had very few people who came down with COVID during the pandemic.”
Sanchez said they received a surge of business because more people were spending more time at home and noticing things that needed to be repaired. Sanchez said they also shifted to selling to more commercial, industrial and government clients and that the Albuquerque store was focused more on those clients. The Española store also received a large amount of business selling the Los Alamos National Laboratory PPE and equipment for other COVID related projects Sanchez said.