Santa Cruz SBDC

Tortilla Flats

“Our advisors have consistently been the source of solid moral-support counsel, checklists, experience-based advice, and even on-site visits with suggestions. They have saved us money, time, and costly mistakes. Their suggestions of additional reference materials have been very helpful.”

All Client Stories

Tortilla Flats is now a family-run upscale full-service Mexican Restaurant that has been around since 1981. In 2021 Erik Svehaug came to us in the hope of purchasing this restaurant, where his daughter had been the manager for 20 years, and who would eventually inherit the business. Erik, his wife Azra and daughter Zolina received assistance in various areas, including purchasing a business, creating a business plan, making accurate financial projections, and applying for an SBA loan.

After Tortilla Flats’ previous owner’s passing away, Zolina realized she couldn’t just let the restaurant she had dedicated so much of her life to, simply close. The restaurant had been around for 40 years, throughout which a true family had been formed among the staff members.

Right from the start,one main issue that came up was the lack of a proper bookkeeping system, where COGS (costs of goods sold) were based on supplier invoices instead of inventories, which in fact had never been made. Therefore, our consultant Keith Holtaway insisted in developing accurate profit and loss statements, firstly by organizing the kitchen and storage in order to facilitate inventory accuracy, and to allow for well informed decisions to be made. Moreover, working on a business plan became imperative to provide direction, create metrics and to get money as well, hence why the family’s attendance to our Business Model Canvas was unequivocally fruitful to turn their ideas and dreams into an achievable plan.

Another issue was dealing with the purchasing process, where the SBDC’s guidance was crucial to implement an interim operating agreement that would allow Zolina to continue business operations during the transition of one owner to another.

Despite Erik, Zolina and Azra’s lack of prior restaurant experience, one of our advisors was able to to provide assistance regarding the poor existing infrastructure and sound operating systems. To fix this, our suggested approach included inventory reductions, storage cleanliness and organization along with simple fixes in the kitchen.

Another big part of Erik’s family’s journey involved determining the appropriate training and resources they would need. In order to ensure their restaurant’s success, they would have to learn about HRM(Human Resource Management), as well as get POS training to correctly keep track of sales.

Our advisors also emphasized the importance of increasing social media presence to get more engagement and therefore, attract more customers. In order to change their outdated branding at the time, our advisor Jason Ryczek guided them through a Bio and helped them make their social media profiles current, while also helping Erik schedule the clients social media posts, therefore leading to more visibility and exposure on Instagram and Facebook. Social media marketing went hand in hand with capturing their true, differentiating selling points, while also considering the intricacies of their target customers for specific meal times and optimal customers.

Finally, Jason worked with Zolina’s family on gaining control of the finances, accomplished by analyzing previous performance data in order to make as accurate as possible predictions and decisions, considering our clients had bought the business but did not yet own the building where they operated. Once a financial forecast had been completed, our clients could come up with a spreadsheet to get an SBA loan.

As a result of such hard work and commitment, Erik, Zolina and Azra were able to accomplish their goal of keeping Tortilla Flats operating, while retaining 11 jobs, and managing to invest as much as $200000 in the restaurant.

Despite the risks and hardships that stepping up as a business owner with no previous experience entails, Zolina saw the potential and importance of Tortilla Flats to people in Santa Cruz, for which its loyal customers will forever be grateful for. Although a lot of improvements were made to guarantee the restaurant’s success, the family’s biggest wish was to keep the essence the clientele had originally fallen in love with to carry on the legacy started 40 years ago by Cheryl Marquez, whose love for experimenting with flavors turned into an innovative mix of different cuisines and cultures.

This experience has been like wind beneath our wings. Keith, Tom, Ben: they have each brought empathy and expertise to us and communicated respectfully and paced that communication in such a way that we could take it in. We were starting from scratch and they have made a huge difference to our family starting out. I have told many people already and will continue to praise this program. Thank you all!