How to start a restaurant when you don't have much money

Diverse downtown
Downtown Willmar, Minn. has developed into a melting pot of Latino, Mexican and East African businesses. Esperanza and Stephanie Lopez worked for years to open Spurs Bar & Grill in Willmar — and then they took a huge hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

Imagine you've been working for years to start a restaurant with very little money, pouring your blood, sweat and tears into this passion project ... and then a few short years after you finally open, a worldwide pandemic brings your entire industry to a screeching halt.

How do you survive as a business? How do you keep going?

That's not even the whole story when it comes to Esperanza and Stephanie Lopez. This mother-daughter team owns Spurs Bar & Grill in Willmar, Minn., which was hit hard by the pandemic — but they persevered, with the help of their community.

Chris Farrell and Twila Dang talked to Esperanza and Stephanie for their podcast "Small Change: Money Stories from the Neighborhood." Farrell is also senior economics contributor at MPR. He told host Cathy Wurzer more about their story.

Esperanza was educated as an engineer in Mexico, but she decided to move to Willmar to pursue better opportunities and safety for Stephanie.

It took the duo four years to build their restaurant. During that time, both Esperanza and Stephanie worked their own jobs, they had a side hustle and they remodeled and renovated their restaurant space themselves (with instruction from local tradespeople and YouTube videos).

Finally, with a boost of financial support from the Latino Economic Development Center and the local Willmar community, Esperanza and Stephanie opened Spurs Bar & Grill in 2018.

When the pandemic hit, local businesses rallied around the restaurant, buying gift cards and placing massive orders. “It was mostly other businesses that helped us get by,” Stephanie told Farrell.

Latino-owned businesses are key to overall small business growth in the U.S. The number of Latino-owned businesses in the U.S. grew 34 percent over the last 10 years — compared to just 1 percent of growth for all other small businesses, Farrell said.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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