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Keeping it fresh

RestaurantsRestaurant and Catering IndustryDining and DrinkingArchitectureMexicoFinancial Planning

Pair up an architect with a marketing manager/financial adviser and a chef/concept developer, and you get Zona Fresca, the Mexican grill restaurant in Fort Lauderdale, Plantation and its newest location in Pompano Beach.

For more than a decade, Oscar de Armas, the marketing specialist; Tim Dobravolskis, the chef, and Martin Diaz-Yabor, the architect, have used their specialties to methodically and successfully grow their restaurant venture.

They divvy up duties: de Armas manages finance and marketing. Dobravolskis oversees day-to-day operations, menu items and the overall dining experience. Diaz- Yabor heads restaurant design and building.

And by being active in their own businesses — De Armas provides financial advice, and Diaz-Yarbo owns an architectural firm — risk is balanced with experience. Diaz-Yabor says he's reached a certain comfort level to be entrepreneurial and take calculated risks in new ventures.

Details: Zona Fresca 954-781-0030 Web: Zonafresca.com Facebook.com/zonafresca Twitter.com/#!/zonafresca

The drill-down:

What can you do that your competitors cannot? Our greatest asset is our guest-driven mindset. Every employee is trained and empowered to take care of our customers with the same philosophy as if they were dining in a white tablecloth restaurant. Our counter staff members are not just order takers; they are mini-managers able to make decisions necessary to ensure guest satisfaction. In the quick and casual dining sectors, where annual staff turnover typically is more than 100 percent, a third of our original staff from 11 years ago is still with us.

How do you access risk of launching a restaurant? Oscar and Tim were born and raised in Southern California, a stone's throw away from Mexico where Baja style food has a huge presence. We saw an opportunity and took the risk to introduce fresh Mexican fare to South Florida, confident we would succeed if we kept the focus on the guest, made smart decisions and worked hard.

This economy has been the catalyst for setbacks across all industries — how do you economize your business? All partners and managers are constantly searching for ways to improve and lower costs, but never in ways that compromise the quality that has defined our brand. We have kept our prices as low as possible through challenging times.

What do you want people to think when they walk into your restaurant? The best way to articulate the feel would be a "hip taquería:" a combination of comfort with a non-pretentious sense of style.

What is the best advice you ever received? de Armas: "Cool your jets." Dobravolskis: "To be successful in this business, you need the right balance of confidence and fear." Diaz-Yabor: My mom and dad would always say: "Sit back, listen, observe and analyze. Put your plan in place before you act."

What keeps you up at night? de Armas: Our U.S. economy and the debt that we are amassing. If we don't get it under control, everything we have worked so hard to accomplish could be destroyed. Dobravolskis: Thinking of ways to stay ahead of the competition and consumer trends, not just today but 10 years from now. Diaz-Yabor: The state of the economy and how it will affect our families and business.

About the food:

How did you come up with flavors since there are three of you — did one person's tastes prevail? Tim captains the kitchen; it's his inspiration. The Zona Fresca concept revolves around the bold, simple flavors associated with the Baja peninsula, and ingredients like fresh tomatoes, onions, cilantro and pepper are centuries old.

Are you willing to divulge your pico de gallo recipe? Ripe firm tomatoes, chopped white onions, diced seeded jalapenos, fresh cilantro, salt and a squeeze of lime. We make it every morning, chopping the ingredients by hand.

ckent@tribune.com or 954-356-4662 Twitter.com @mindingyourbiz

Work with business partners

Understand all partners are responsible for the success of the business.

Communicate key decisions, compromise when needed.

Allow each other space. All of us have amassed experiences that help propel our business.

Respect each other at all times and enjoy each other's company.

Know each could be successful without each other but are much stronger together.

From concept to reality

Believe

Create a thorough business plan

Never underfund

Know what you don't know, then find someone who does.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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RestaurantsRestaurant and Catering IndustryDining and DrinkingArchitectureMexicoFinancial Planning
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