Serving Up Success

Client: Inca Hospitality
SBDC: Small Business Development Center Hosted by El Camino College

Business is in Celfio Goni’s DNA: He came from a family of entrepreneurs, and earned a degree in business administration in his home country of Peru. After emigrating to the U.S., he started as a dishwasher and eventually bought the restaurant where he worked. But attracting customers was challenging, so in 1999 Goni visited the Small Business Development Center hosted by El Camino College for advice. It was the beginning of a long and profitable relationship.

 Best Advice:
SBDC Business Advisors including Dan Hancuff and Charles Lowe helped Goni develop a business plan, learn to delegate and advertise effectively, obtain an SBA loan to expand his business, handle legal issues related to the expansion and learn the ropes of importing.

 Lessons Learned:

  • Know your market niche. In 2004 Goni bought a nearby Vietnamese market. To broaden its appeal, he expanded the product line to include Filipino, Indonesian, Cambodian, Indian, Pakistani and Latin American foods. “The SBDC advised me how to advertise to reach customers from these different ethnic groups,” says Goni, who advertises in local magazines and newspapers and on Peruvian TV.
  • Get organized. At first, Goni and his wife were Inca Gourmet Restaurant’s sole employees. Once he was able to hire staff, his Business Advisors explained the importance of delegating. Today, Goni relies on a store manager to keep the market running. “The more organized, the more successful your business will be,” he explains.
  • The money is out there. With help from the SBDC, Goni obtained a $257,000 SBA loan to expand his market from 4,000 to 8,000 square feet. “I didn’t know how to fill out the application, but the [SBDC] helped me,” Goni says. “Every time I had a question, they always had the answer.”
  • Do your homework. Goni wasn’t happy with the margins on Peruvian food he was buying from his distributor, so in 2009 he began exploring options for importing food himself. Lowe guided him in everything from bar codes and packaging to FDA regulations and finding a broker. “It took around a year of research to learn everything I needed to know,” recalls Goni, who imported his first shipment in 2011.

Diversifying into retail and importing has helped Inca Hospitality thrive despite a tough economy for restaurants. In addition to importing food for his restaurant and market, Goni now sells imported Peruvian foods under his own label. He has 13 employees altogether, and will hire five more once the market’s expansion is complete. His immediate goal is repaying the loan; then he’ll explore importing more products.

As Inca Hospitality grows, Goni continues to turn to the SBDC for guidance. “Every time I go, I learn new things,” he says. “I’m very grateful for the SBDC’s advice.”