My decision to open up my restaurant in the middle of Skid Row was one of the riskiest things that I have ever done in my life.
Skid Row is one of the most politically charged streets in the US because it is where most of LA's homeless population congregates—approximately 18,000 homeless residents live here. My decision to open up my restaurant Yxta over there in 2009 proved to be one of the riskiest things I have ever done in my life.
"You're making a horrible business investment," my old boss told me. "You're crazy. No one is going to eat at your restaurant," others would say. Even my future restaurant partner gave me shit about it at first. And while they were right in saying that I didn't know what I was getting myself into, four restaurants later—that risky decision turned out to the be the start of my restaurant empire.
Now that I think of it, I guess that opening up restaurants in risky parts of town runs in my family's genes. Some of the earliest restaurant memories that I have are my parents being concerned with opening their now-iconic restaurant El Arco Iris in Highland Park. They opened it in 1964, but it later became one of the most heavily gang-infested neighborhoods in the city.
It's crazy how life comes full circle, because now I get phone calls from developers and new malls from places like Hawaii and Las Vegas, offering opportunities to open up my next restaurant in their development.
Sure, there was one time that I found a couple of vials full of crack in my other restroom. There was another time when a beautiful ceramic decorative agave made by an artisan in Mexico was swiped in plain daylight by someone who just ran in, snatched it, and ran away.
I serve all of my customers the same way, whether they are homeless or not.
If there's one thing that owning a restaurant in Skid Row has taught me, it is that it is actually not all about the location of your restaurant—or the economy—since I opened up right when the economy tanked. It is about how hard you want it to work and how much work you are willing to put into it. Yxta was definitely not an instant success. But while the easy way out could have been for me to quit and blame the economy or location, I continued to work as hard as I can and tried to make it a great place to eat in.
I advise any other restaurateurs or aspirational restaurateurs out there thinking about taking a risk in a risky part of town to do the same, because it can potentially be the start of your very own restaurant empire, too.
As told to Javier Cabral
This first appeared on MUNCHIES in August 2015.