While some might believe that success is a matter of luck, geologist-turned-restaurateur Tracy Vaught and her chef-extraordinaire husband Hugo Ortega might dare to differ with you. Their formula for success: foresight, vision, conservative growth and hard work.
Tracy owned several restaurants before opening Hugo's, so she had developed a formula that worked well for the businesses she operated. Around 2000, Tracy and Hugo leased the 1920s-era, 5800-square-foot building at 1800 Westheimer. The building once housed several smaller businesses including a plumbing supply shop, bakery, drug store and offices of Houston architect Joseph Finger (famed designer responsible for such noteworthy sights as Houston's City Hall, River Oaks Country Club and the Lancaster Hotel).
They chose to lease the space first, making renovations and taking some time to see if their venture with authentic Mexican cuisine took off before buying the property. The restaurant opened in 2002 and its popularity soared almost immediately. Tracy had the foresight to make sure the lease included a "right of first refusal" clause which came in handy three years later when the property's owner was approached with an offer from another buyer.
Planning and timing are everything. The clause allowed them the right to make a counteroffer to secure the property, but didn't give them much time to stow away cash or make any complex plans about financing. Luckily, their banker had heard of Community Business Finance and the Small Business Administration's 504 Loans.
Tracy notes that, like any process that involves the government, the paperwork isn't easy. Fortunately she had kept good records, and her accountant gathered what they needed and worked closely with the Community Business Finance staff. While a bit nerve-racking, she notes, it all went smoothly and closed in just a couple of months.
What was most beneficial to them was that the funding allows small businesses like hers to maintain the cash on hand it needs to weather unforeseen things that inevitably crop up, like hurricanes -- or even new opportunities that arise. Tracy's rule of thumb is to have a minimum of $100,000 as a buffer above the capital your business needs to operate annually to ensure your business is able to withstand the inevitable lows that all businesses encounter.
Right now, Tracy and Hugo have their businesses running smoothly with the right menu, the right staff and the right location, and have other things to worry about – like where their child will go to college in just a few years.