Some people believe that success is a matter of luck, but geologist-turned-restaurateur Tracy Vaught and her chef-extraordinaire husband Hugo Ortega beg to differ. Their formula for success: foresight, vision, conservative growth, and hard work.

Tracy owned several restaurants before opening Hugo's, and she had developed a formula that worked well for the businesses she operated. In 2000, Tracy and Hugo leased a 1920s-era, 5,800-square-foot building at 1800 Westheimer. The building once housed several small businesses including a plumbing supply shop, bakery, drug store, and the 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 and make renovations. They wanted to see if their venture into authentic Mexican cuisine would take 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 by another buyer.


Planning and timing were everything. The clause allowed them to make a counteroffer to secure the property, but it did not give them much time to stow away cash or make any complex financing plans. Luckily, their banker had heard of Community Business Finance and the Small Business Administration's 504 Loan Program.

Tracy noted that, like any process involving the government, the paperwork was not easy. Fortunately, she kept good records, and her accountant gathered got what they needed and worked closely with the Community Business Finance staff. It was a bit nerve-racking, but the process went smoothly and was completed in just a couple of months.

What was most beneficial was that the funding could allow small businesses like Tracy's to maintain cash on hand to weather unforeseen events like hurricanes or even to take new opportunities that arise. Tracy's rule of thumb is to have a minimum of $100,000 above the capital the business needs to operate annually as a buffer to ensure it is able to withstand the inevitable lows that all businesses encounter.  Right now, Tracy and Hugo's business is running smoothly with the right menu, the right staff, and the right location.