The first few years in business, I made every mistake an entrepreneur could make. I tried to do it all myself. I did not even hire an employee for the first few months. Driving to the produce market every night, stuffing my ’66 Mustang like it was a pick-up truck, proved naïve. It was not long before I had to trade the Mustang for a ’62 Falcon station wagon and a sign for the restaurant.
Working 20 hours a day, with only occasional breaks courtesy of family and friends, I slept in a converted garage up the street and felt like I could work until I dropped. Sometimes I did.
It never felt like work though… not at all. It has been the greatest job and it still is.
Looking back, it’s amazing the restaurant lasted a year. I have so many people to thank for getting me through those early days with many lonely hours and moments of hard-hitting reality. As we pass the 30-year mark… I will be thanking everyone who helped Poquito Más® survive and, eventually, thrive.
— Mr. Más™
Sylvia is like a second mother to me. I worked for her family restaurant business in my early years out of high school. She gave me a great view of how a business should be run. She was the first customer at the Original Más™ and is first in line when we open a new Poquito Más.®
In anticipation of opening the very first Poquito Más® restaurant, I felt the Broiler and the Griddle were the most important pieces of restaurant equipment, and I wanted them to be new. Sylvia walked into the still-under-construction restaurant and asked me if she could buy those pieces of equipment for me. I was touched. It was precisely what I wanted, and at a time when I really needed it. The brand-new Wolf Broiler and Griddle arrived the next day.
Admiring the completed cooking line, I could not help but notice how virtually everything in the restaurant was the result of friends and family helping me get all the pieces for my little dream.
Thank you, Sylvia, for the Broiler, the Griddle and the years of mentorship that gave me the foundation for The Más®.
There was something about Edgar. When he started working with me he was a dishwasher and quickly moved to busser. But there was so much more to this young man. He was eager to learn and loaded with energy but most important he had a heart for people and understood you have to do whatever it takes to succeed, every day. And he does, every day! Within a few weeks, his work ethic gave me the opportunity to offer him a spot in the kitchen. We worked in the kitchen together for about two weeks and then it was time for me to turn it over to him. He was a natural for the line and a natural leader.
After 20 years of trust and hard work, I was so happy for Edgar to become the first franchisee of Poquito Más®. He opened the Woodland Hills branch first and now has three Poquito Más® restaurants. You will know when you meet Edgar. He does not need a name tag, his energy says it all. Edgar is The Más®.
Thank you Edgar. The Journey continues.
After two months of operating the Original Poquito Más® location with help from friends and family, I finally felt the restaurant had enough business to pay for a full-time employee. A good friend introduced me to Juanito. Juanito has a “Can Do Attitude” so I hired him on the spot… one of the best decisions I have ever made. Juanito and I worked side-by-side for several years.
Years later, Juanito and I traveled to different cities in Mexico, including visiting his family in his hometown near Mexico city. It was a great trip and I truly enjoyed journeying into parts of Mexico I had not previously experienced. Now, almost 32 years later, Juanito still works at Poquito Más®. His loyalty and hard work are an inspiration to all of us.
As the very first employee, gracias Juanito. You are The Más®.
In the early days of The Más®, occasional assistance from friends really helped. But it was beginning to get busier, with more customers than I could handle. My sister Maureen (“Mo”), who helped me set up and decorate the first Little Mas, became our first cashier and our first… everything. I cannot imagine those first few months without her.
Mo and I worked side by side, and she was there for the first official “line to the door” rush. She looked at me and, in a very calm voice said, “Hey Mr. Más, looks like we are going to need to get más… everything.”
Mo’s touch on the restaurant is still there today. She was there when the spirit of The Más® was created. She did this despite the fact I could not pay her (although I did give her my prized 10-speed, which she claimed was sufficient). Mo still chimes in on all kinds of details of running The Mas®.
Thank You, Mo, for making Poquito Más®… poquito más.
As the only employee for the first few months, I had to rely on friends to help me out. Gary is a trusted friend and has been since high school. He would take care of the place while I went to the market or bank. He was more comfortable at his regular career, on the road getting disc-jockeys and radio stations to play the newest group he was representing, but he took the time to help me those first few months… even longer.
On quiet nights, in the beginning, Gary would hang out to encourage me… knowing this was all I had, that this was everything.
Gary was always willing to get behind the counter to make a burrito the best he could. He actually got quite good at it.
Thank you, Gary.
Around the neighborhood of the Original Más™
Part-time actor, part-time philosopher, and full-time retail clothing store owner, Dante was part of the fabric of our neighborhood. He would stand at his doorway, greeting people as they came by.
Dante could have played opposite Errol Flynn or James Cagney — perhaps he did. His look of authority and confidence had served him well throughout his life. Dante watched as we built The Más® and he demonstrated so much patience as we created noise and dust during construction. Once we opened, he was also a welcome guest; Dante really loved our Bean and Cheese Burrito.
His smile was memorable and his accent a delight to hear.
Thank you, Dante.
Building the Original Más™
While we were under construction with the Original Más™, I spent quite a bit of time at Good Neighbor Restaurant, which is located in the same retail center.
Good Neighbor is one of those Breakfast and Lunch places that define a community. It’s where everyone goes — not only for great food but for the true family of people who work there and for the sense of belonging it offers.
Betty, a waitress at the time, heard we were working hard to open our restaurant, and she was very encouraging. Even when we faced construction challenges, Betty was always there were a great smile and a positive word.
Thank you, Betty, Rick, and family for being there. A few years after the Original Más™ opened, Betty and her family purchased Good Neighbor… and they still run it to this day! I’m grateful for their place and for what it brings to the neighborhood.
Building the Original Más™
Once I was done with the L.A. Dept. of building and Safety, I called the L.A. County Health Department to request a restaurant license. I learned that, even for such a tiny location, the plans would have to be reviewed and approved by the Health Department as well. Had I known of this requirement, I would have presented the approved plans weeks in advance of our Opening Day. With only one week before the Grand Opening, any delay could have been fatal… I was running out of money.
I was so nervous walking into the Health Department to get the license, I felt that I had screwed up and that there was no way I could get the plans reviewed and approved in time.
However, David and several of his co-workers discussed the plans with me for over an hour. They pressed me about different aspects of the business, to make sure I knew how to operate a restaurant. David and his team agreed to visit the restaurant the following day, to confirm that it was ready. They went above and beyond to help me get the little place ready, and with just a few minor corrections, I had the permit in hand.
Thanks to David and his co-workers at LA County Health Department.
Building the Original Más™
I knew how to run a restaurant, but building one from scratch was a lesson I had yet to learn. The counter at the City of LA Department of Building and Safety can be a scary place, and when I showed up with my plans for the restaurant (as tiny as it was to be) on a few sheets of paper, it was clear these were not typical of the plans they were used to seeing.
The gentleman behind the counter took one look, sighed, and began to explain how the plans were lacking. He had more patience than perhaps I deserved, but after 6 hours of sitting in the corner making corrections and implementing his suggestions (then re-submitting those improvements for his review), my plans got the purple stamp of approval. The Más® had the building and inspections permits required before opening for business.
I truly wish I could remember his name, but there is little doubt that, without his patient assistance, I would not have received those approvals in time.
Thank you, unnamed counter man from the City of LA Department of Building and Safety, for helping me get my plans in shape.
Shortly before our first restaurant opened, I realized the cement floor looked worn and beaten from all the construction. It was clear that I needed to install Saltio floor tiles immediately.
So much was happening in those days, and I had no idea how to install the tile. My friend Joe, who owned a restaurant across the street and had experience with all kinds of construction, generously offered to help.
Joe and I worked day and night for two straight days, cutting the tile, placing it and grouting it. I had purchased just enough tile to fill the small dining room but only if we left large – almost 2 inch – grout lines. It wasn’t perfect, but it would have to do. Afterward, Joe and I could barely feel our fingers; they were so dry and frail from the massive amount of grouting that we had done. It was a great feeling to finally apply the tile sealer and watch the space come to life.
Thank you, Joe, for literally working your fingers to the bone to make the Original Mas™ ready for its grand opening.
There will be more about Joe.
Opening day was upon me. The construction completed, the food was ready. Suddenly I focused on the idea of customers coming in. I realized I needed a printed menu to hand out. It seems like a simple thing. How could I forget the menu? But I had.
This was before everyone owned a PC, and there was no time to get the printing done. I turned to a long time friend who lived nearby.
Lita and I became lifelong friends in High School while working at Grauman’s Chinese Theater. She was home after spending several years on the road with Ringling Bros. Circus as an aerialist. Remembering her beautiful handwriting, and that she lived a few blocks away, I asked her to meet me. We sat in the tiny dining room of the yet-to-open Original Más. I watched as Lita used a single piece of 8.5 x 11 paper and a calligraphy pen to create the words that helped people understand the food. Lita remains a dear friend.
Thank you, Lita, for sharing your artistry and creating our first menu. Thank you for spending that long night just to get it to me in time for the Grand Opening.
Thank you, Lita
Building the Original Más™
It was nearing inspection time. I needed a commercial hood for the kitchen and I needed it immediately. I did not have the $5,000 for a new commercial venting hood. A good friend called to tell me about a hood that was mine for the taking if I could find a way to remove it from a former burger joint on Hollywood Blvd. The stainless steel hood was in excellent condition and the price was right.
On short notice, my friends Gary and Matt — professional craftsmen — showed up to help me take it down and install it in its new location at Poquito Más®.
As I sat in the bed of the truck, holding the rope that kept the hood from sliding out onto Cahuenga Pass, I thought how lucky I was to find such a beauty. It was terrific, and it was one of the last pieces of equipment required, to get this taco stand up and running. To this day, that hood is mounted in the kitchen at the Original Mas™.
Thank you, Gary and Matt
Building the Original Más™ in 1984…
One of the most important pieces needed to complete the Original Mas™ was the little refrigerator with a place on top to put the taco fixings.
The equipment guy priced a new unit and it was way out of my range. So he brought me a used one that came from another restaurant in Hollywood that was going to be leveled to make way for a new shopping center.
The refrigerator was older, but high quality stainless and well-built. The Art Deco doors on the front intrigued me so I asked him where it came from. He said “Some place called Schwab’s Pharmacy* on Sunset… it was there a long time.” I had to replace the compressor and fix a door handle but as I looked at this vintage piece of equipment I realized it was a little piece of history. The refrigerator was getting a new life and it was giving life to a new little place in the Cahuenga Pass.
*Schwab’s was an iconic lunch destination for many Hollywood legends from the 1930s until 1983. Thank you, Schwab’s.
Building the Original Más™ in 1984…
Breaking cement at 3 am to prepare a trench for new pipes was not a good idea. I know that now. I hit a water line. Water started gushing and I could not stop it. So I called John the Plumber and woke him out of a deep sleep. The restaurant was not yet even open for business… and the place was flooded.
20 minutes later John showed up. He had already had a hard day of work and really needed the sleep, but he got up, drove over and crimped the pipe with his bare hands saying, “I’ll be back in the morning.”
The sun was rising as I finished mopping the place. Minutes later, John walked through the front door and finished the job.
John the Plumber went sleepless and prevented a major setback. Thank you, John.
To the property owners of the original Poquito Más® location in Studio City, who looked at a kid with no credit, no security, barely enough money to open, and took a chance by renting him the space anyway.