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Outlook 2013: Ethnic restaurants beat survival odds

Supreeya and Geronimo Lopez started El Vaquero in 1997 when they were newlyweds. Since that time, they've opened another Mexican restaurant and, more recently, Lemon Grass, a Thai restaurant on Meredyth Drive. While the endeavors have been financially rewarding, the couple said the businesses take up nearly all of their time. (Outlook 2013)

Supreeya and Geronimo Lopez started El Vaquero in 1997 when they were newlyweds. Since that time, they've opened another Mexican restaurant and, more recently, Lemon Grass, a Thai restaurant on Meredyth Drive. While the endeavors have been financially rewarding, the couple said the businesses take up nearly all of their time. (Outlook 2013)

ALBANY, Ga. — If you love to cook, and you’re given to high risk, sprinkled with long hours and hard work — or if you really want to test your marriage, then start a restaurant. One Albany couple has three of them and live to tell the tale.

In 1997 Geronimo Lopez, originally from Mexico, and his young wife, Supreeya, a Bangkok native, decided to go into business. Geronimo searched the Internet and read newspapers, to find out what he could about the towns around Columbus, their home at the time. Albany emerged the winner.

“The articles talked about the Good Life City, you know,” said Geronimo Lopez. “I went there and to some other towns, like Thomasville. North Albany had a lot of growth. We wanted to raise a family too, so it seemed like a good place.”

So with a little money, limited experience and a load of family backing, they moved to Albany to establish El Vaquero. After 17 years of work, their Dawson Road restaurant continues to defy the odds. Only an estimated 40 percent of restaurants survive their first two years.

“I don’t think I’d do it the same way,” said Supreeya Lopez. “Geronimo’s family loaned him some money to go with what he’d saved and they helped us set it up. It’s good to be young. We had nothing to lose.”

The couple soon discovered that owning a restaurant was no casual affair, but a relentlessly demanding, exhausting, never-ending responsibility.

“We don’t work 40 hours a week like normal people,” Supreeya Lopez said. “Forget weekends. Forget special occasions or birthdays. Forget vacations. You have to work it out and balance it.”

“I wanted a restaurant because I love to cook,” Geronimo Lopez said, “but you start a business, you have to know it from the bottom to the top. That’s why a lot of people don’t make it. They don’t know.”

In 2008 the Lopezes launched their second restaurant, Los Vaqueros, on Westover Boulevard, and just six months ago, Lemon Grass, at 2820 Meredyth Drive. Lemon Grass features exotic dishes from Supreeya’s home of Thailand. Her aunt and uncle do most of the cooking, she said, having specialized in Thai cuisine for some 15 years in Washington D.C.

“Thai food is not easy to prepare,” Supreeya Lopez said. “and everything must be absolutely fresh. Some people want it ‘Thai hot.’ American hot is not enough for them. But we tweak the dishes to make it only as hot as you like it.”

It’s clear the Lopezes have a strong marriage. They have to, working together for all those hours. And there are some differences in culture.

“The first time Geronimo hugged my uncle, all my family just freaked out,” Supreeya Lopez said. “Asians don’t show their emotions or touch each other in public like people in the West. They’re softer spoken, too. Mexicans are louder. It’s not like they’re really shouting. It’s just the way they talk.”

The couple says their three restaurants are their absolute limit, but if it all fell apart tomorrow they wouldn’t hesitate to start the whole thing over.

“I told Geronimo,” Supreeya said, “I’d go back to waiting tables if I had to. I have no regrets. I don’t want to be on my death bed thinking “I really should have done it.”

Comments

VietVet1 1 year, 1 month ago

Good food and an honest family business. May they have continued success.

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FlunkyMonkey 1 year, 1 month ago

How about putting a restaurant on the east side of town close to Walmart? Can only eat so much chinese (Crazy Buffet is delish but it does get old)....we would love to have a really good Spanish and Italian restaurant over there with good food and ambiance.

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Barny_Gumble 1 year, 1 month ago

Excellent Place and very surprised for the value when it is located in Albany. Eat here if you desire clean cooked and awesome service. And to the FlunkyMonkey poster; yes, we do need a real Spanish cuisine here. That or some real tex-mex. This suedo Mexican food here is a disgrace to the heritage and patrons.

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