By Eric Hagen – ABC Newspapers
The MetroNorth Chamber of Commerce recognized three local success stories during its annual Excellence in Business Awards ceremony Feb. 5 at the Majestic Oaks Golf Course in Ham Lake.
Marisa Reyes of Mounds View received the Micro Business Award. Her business — The Power Within — helps clients identify foods that can increase energy, improve overall health and burn fat.
Running Aces Harness Park in Columbus received the Services Award. The facility first opened in 2008 and includes summer harness racing, year-round Simulcast wagering on all horses, a card room, live shows and a restaurant and bar.
Acapulco Mexican Restaurant was founded in 1996 by the Leon family when they moved from California to Minnesota. They recently opened their eighth restaurant in Ham Lake and also have locations in Blaine, Coon Rapids, Maplewood, New Brighton, Ramsey, Stillwater and Woodbury. Acapulco received the Products Award from the chamber of commerce.
With former pub business owner and 2 Gingers Whiskey founder Kieran Folliard serving as the keynote speaker, business owners received a lot of good advice and stories at the ceremony.
Sam Leon, one of the owners of Acapulco Mexican Restaurant, said the best advice he can give for new business owners is to invest profits into the company and not on yourself. Acapulco brought in $13 million in revenue last year, which seems like a lot of money, but it costs a lot to run a restaurant with multiple locations that employs over 400 people, he said.
“You don’t buy yourself wealth. You buy yourself a job, and we’ve bought jobs for a lot of people,” Leon said.
Stacey Jensen, marketing and events manager for Running Aces, attributes its success to its team. “We feel like we’re a family,” she said. “When we come to work, we work openly as a team.”
Reyes said networking is key, but do not worry about whether there is a direct business relationship that can form because you never know when one contact can lead you to meeting others who can directly help your business grow.
The Power Within
Reyes has had grandparents die because of health complications caused by diabetes. While she taught in school classrooms for a decade, she noticed that her students’ health impacted their academic performance. She could encourage them to eat healthy, but their diet was greatly influenced by what their parents bought, so she started The Power Within three years ago to provide healthy dining tips for families. Her husband is the chef who came up with the ideas.
Reyes invites clients to her Mounds View home so she can show them what her family buys at the grocery store and the recipes they can make. The class is a hands-on cooking experience. She also does site visits. Her business grew by 400 percent in 2011.
“If people that control the money make good decisions and are knowledgeable about what they are doing, it impacts everyone, especially the kids,” she said.
Reyes said she will be partnering with Anoka-Champlin Meals on Wheels this year to help provide healthy meals for families.
Running Aces’ revenue grew by 9.4 percent from 2011 to 2012. The number of employees has stayed around 550 over the past three years, but will increase to about 600 in the summer months for the racing season.
Jensen said some newer things that have been happening at Running Aces includes two new I-tables, where players can place bets on Blackjack using iPads on the table. The dealer still deals regular cards, however. If someone prefers the traditional experience, Running Aces has up to 80 tables for various card games, she said.
The higher stakes Poker tournaments can be streamed live so people can watch the action unfold like they would by watching the “World Series of Poker” that ESPN televises.
When the Leon family moved from Jalisco, Mexico, to Los Angeles about 40 years ago, the parents worked in many menial jobs and sweat shops to save up money for their nine children. In 1996, they moved to Minnesota and opened up the first Acapulco Mexican Restaurant.
Sam Leon, who is right in the middle in terms of age compared with his eight other siblings, said they always had a love for food, so for them it has simply been about selling what they know and doing what they love to do.
The Leon family will be expanding beyond the Mexican dishes and drinks and opening up an Irish restaurant and bar called Pub 112 in downtown Stillwater in April. A team of Irish chefs have been busy developing a menu for this new restaurant.
Eric Hagen is at firstname.lastname@example.org