Patience and planning have certainly paid off for Raul Cantu. In 1996, after spending eight years working around the country in the food and beverage industry, Raul saw an opportunity to open his own Mexican restaurant in Richmond, VA. A “for sale” sign in the window of a business in a good location was all the inspiration he needed.
But inspiration wasn’t enough to open the necessary doors. Although he had extensive work experience, good credit and a sound business plan, Raul needed assistance with getting financing for his restaurant from the banks.
“I have customers and other people interested in owning their own business ask me how to get started,” Raul says. “I always tell them to contact SCORE, and go to a SCORE seminar. SCORE gives you straightforward advice and the seminar gives you the basic essentials you need to know.”
Raul opened the restaurant in Carytown, an upscale, eclectic shopping district in central Richmond. His Nacho Mama’s restaurant was an immediate hit, with authentic recipes from his native Texas and Mexico proving so popular that Raul had to run to a grocery store on the eatery’s opening night when his kitchen ran out of food.
Today, Nacho Mama’s is a favorite gathering spot for locals. The restaurant has received numerous local awards for its food and drinks, and total sales have increased an average of 10 percent each year since it opened.
Even though he’d found success in the restaurant business, Raul had ideas about exploring other avenues of business. In 2001, after a trip overseas, Raul was inspired to open a men’s clothing store. Drawing from his previous work with SCORE, he developed a plan and found another location in Carytown. He drew from his previous experience with SCORE to set up his new venture. Raul says, “I used what I had learned from SCORE in starting my first business to establish a business plan for Adonis, and got advice from them on how to set up a business partnership.”
Adonis opened with a quick start, as first-year sales surpassed expectations by nearly 30 percent. Numerous requests by female shoppers looking for women’s clothing prompted him to expand the store in the fall of 2003, renaming the store Adonis/Aphrodite. Despite the arrival of two new malls in Richmond and several business days lost due to Hurricane Isabel in the fall of 2003, sales have increased more than five percent from last year.
Raul’s success in Richmond has helped him become as a prominent local business leader. He was appointed by Virginia Gov. Jim Gilmore to sit on the Virginia Small Business Advisory Board from 1998 to 2000. He also currently serves as president of the Carytown Retail Merchants Association. Raul has also returned the favor to SCORE, speaking to Richmond SCORE volunteers and aspiring entrepreneurs about how SCORE gave him the guidance he needed to become successful.
Raul turned to SCORE for assistance. After attending a SCORE seminar on business start-ups, Raul worked with Richmond SCORE Counselor Fred Esposito and other mentors to determine what he needed to do to make his dream happen. “They helped me fine-tune my business plan, directed me to the right banks and after that I was approved for a loan within eight hours,” Raul says. “SCORE helped me learn about the part of the business I didn’t know, things like taxes and how to manage the payroll.”