Although he still finds it hard to believe he is a business owner, Rigoberto Perez Cruz (“Rigo”) has owned and operated Latin Food El Mana since September 2020. The business, including a full-service restaurant, adjacent grocery with bakery and meat market, and money transfer services, caters to the growing Central American population in Montevideo, Minnesota. Rigo, with support from his wife Alba Padilla Villalta, manages the business overall, while stepdaughter Cindy J. Caballero supervises the day-to-day restaurant and grocery operations.
With no previous experience running a business, Rigo was understandably hesitant when the prior owner, Armando Castañeda Celis, offered to sell him the business. “I was initially concerned about the potential financial risk and my limited business knowledge,” said Rigo. “Yet I have always believed in the value of learning new things to make myself better, and I am committed to serving my community. So, after thoughtful reflection and an offer from Armando to provide ongoing advice and support, I decided to purchase Latin Food El Mana.”
Rigo’s first year has been a crash course in business ownership and operations – with important lessons in product differentiation and customer service. Many of Latin Food El Mana’s customers are of Mexican, Honduran and Nicaraguan descent. They were not shy about letting Rigo know what they liked and didn’t like about the store and what they expected of him as a new owner. “Regardless of the challenges I may be facing, I need to make my customers happy every day,” Rigo explained. “That means treating them well and making sure we always have the right items on our restaurant menu and the right products in our grocery assortment.” As a result, during the past year, Rigo has expanded the grocery assortment and restaurant menu to include more items that enable home cooking of authentic Central American meals and more traditional cuisine favorites. Recent additions include Tropical Banana, a banana-flavored pop, and Sidral Mundet, an apple-flavored pop as well as mole, burritos and tortas.
In his first year as a business owner, Rigo has developed his knowledge of financial management and fraud protection. Based on the prior owner’s relationship and recommendation, Rigo decided to continue working with Bremer and consumer banker Javier Valenzuela, a partnership he truly appreciates. “The team at Bremer has been a tremendous help throughout this past year,” Rigo acknowledged. “They taught me how to implement standard financial procedures that help me protect the business against fraud, and the tellers call me to make sure I remember to place my cash orders. I am really grateful for Bremer’s patience and expertise.”
Javier echoes Rigo’s gratitude and the connection he feels to Bremer’s roots in working with clients like Latin Food El Mana. “Bremer was founded by an immigrant who understood the importance of community in achieving individual goals,” Javier said. “Rigo’s willingness to listen and learn makes him a great client, and Bremer is honored to provide support and services, like remote deposit, that contribute to his success. Helping Rigo, his family and their Central American community achieve their dreams is an example of Bremer’s purpose in action – cultivating thriving communities to make our region better every day.”
For Rigo, the most rewarding part of the past year has been the opportunity to work side-by-side with his family and serve his local community. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I love working hard to achieve success with – and for – my family, and I am really happy that we are fulfilling a need here in this community.”