Cities Restaurant EastLABy Jesse Torres

(Photos by @melcrave)

Not too long ago I had the opportunity to interview Omar Loya in my weekly radio show on KCAA NBC Radio in Southern California. He is the co-owner of Cities Restaurant in East Los Angeles.

I was intrigued with Omar’s success story for three reasons. First, Omar and his two partners chose to launch their restaurant during the worst of The Great Recession. Second, Cities Restaurant is a “high-end” restaurant located in the middle of East Los Angeles, a low to moderate-income community. And, third, while East Los Angeles is known for its great Mexican food and large population, Cities Restaurant does not feature a single Mexican item on its menu.

Given these three facts, along with the “cult” following that Cities Restaurant has developed, I had to ask Omar how he did it. These are Omar’s eight simple steps to a successful restaurant launch.

  1. DO YOUR HOMEWORK: Omar and his partners spent a considerable amount of time conducting due diligence on the restaurant. Successful small businesses differentiate themselves and offer something that is missing in the local community. In Omar’s case, he found an abundance of low-cost Mexican restaurants. However, there was a shortage of high-end restaurants. His research told him that locals were leaving for other communities to have a “high-end” food experience. His research also suggested that local residents and professionals seeking such an experience could more than adequately support the restaurant.carpaccio dish
  2. KEEP IT SIMPLE: The fewer the number of moving parts, the easier it is to manage, and the cheaper it is to operate. The menu should not seek to be all things to all people. Instead, the menu provides options that are appealing and consistent with the mission and vision of the restaurant. In Omar’s case, he offers no Mexican cuisine. Instead, Cities Restaurant offers selections that are not available nearby.
  3. GIVE THEM WHAT IS MISSING: As noted above, part of the due diligence process is to find the unmet needs. In East Los Angeles there is a Mexican restaurant on every block. However, there are not many restaurants serving up a delicious ahi salad. Conduct a “needs assessment” by asking local residents and professionals what they like that they can’t get locally…then fill that need.
  4. NETWORK, NETWORK, NETWORK: Something that Omar and his partners did extremely well was to network with the local community well before the restaurant opened its doors. Omar welcomed the community to view progress in constructing the restaurant. He also attended local business chamber meetings as an owner of Cities before it served its first glass of water. He worked very closely with representatives of local government as well as community groups. By the time Cities Restaurant was ready for its grand opening, the entire community was aware. As a result, Cities Restaurant opened strong and continues to maintain a growing base of customers.
  5. BE A MEMBER OF THE COMMUNITY: Cities Restaurant has quickly become the “go to” location for fundraisers, holiday parties, and political rallies. Due to its heavy community involvement it has greatly benefited from the increased exposure to new visitors participating in the various events held at the restaurant. Along the way Cities Restaurant has gained a reputation as a community-friendly establishment, resulting in greater patronage and exposure.Watermelon with radish dish
  6. HAVE A PLAN FOR THE FUTURE: According to Omar, a problem with many restaurants is a lack of vision. It is important for the entire organization, from owners to managers to servers, to understand the vision and mission of the restaurant. However, before the staff can do this the owners must stop and think about where they want to go. Owners need to be strategic in order to ensure a future for the restaurant. What do you want your restaurant to be? Who would be your best clients?
  7. BE NIMBLE, BE QUICK: The advantage of a small business is the ability to change course “on the fly.” Running any business requires making adjustments. Owners, management and staff must constantly be on the lookout for those things that do not work and make immediate changes to achieve the desired outcomes. Unfortunately, many small businesses get caught up on the day-to-day and fail to stop and look around and analyze outcomes to see if plans are working as expected.
  8. BE OPPORTUNISTIC: Small business owners must always be on the lookout for opportunities. Such opportunities may include collaboration, filling newly discovered unmet needs, or any other circumstance that may suddenly appear. Such opportunities may not last very long. In other cases, taking strawberry saladadvantage early may provide long-term benefits. Regardless, small business owners need to be able to get above the weeds often to identify opportunities that can benefit the business.


Learn more about the restaurant industry (from AOL jobs)

  • Recent research done on restaurant industry statistics by the National Restaurant Association shows that nearly 50 percent of all eateries in the United States are now owned by women, and restaurants hire more minority managers than any other industry.
  • While the restaurant industry is the second largest employer, giving jobs to nearly 13 million people, women and minorities are especially well represented. For example, Hispanic restaurant ownership has increased 42 percent in the past five years. The restaurants industry has provided 1.5 million new jobs over the past 10 years.
  • Many female and minority workers got their very first jobs in some aspect of the restaurant industry. The research shows that one in four adults had their first job experience in a dining establishment, and that almost 50 percent of all U.S. residents have worked in the restaurant industry at some point in their lives.
  • Surprisingly enough, it’s not the large chains and fast food conglomerates who are the major employers in food service. Ninety three percent of all restaurants have fewer than 50 employees. Also, more than 80 percent of restaurant managers got their start as front-line employees.

For more information about resources and information on how to open a restaurant, visit the National Restaurant Association


 About Jesse TorresJesse_Torres

Jesse Torres has spent nearly 20 years in leadership and executive management posts, including executive management roles at financial institutions. In 2013 the Independent Community Bankers of America named him a top community banker influencer on social media. He is a frequent speaker at financial services and leadership conferences and has written several books. He hosts an NBC News Radio show called Money Talk with Jesse Torres.
Follow @jstorres or contact


  • Susana G Baumann

    Award-winning journalist, author, multicultural expert, public speaker, small business advocate and the Editor-in-Chief of Susana is an Argentinean immigrant who started her own small business over 20 years ago. Now, through her new digital platform and social media channels, she advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas in the United States.

By Susana G Baumann

Award-winning journalist, author, multicultural expert, public speaker, small business advocate and the Editor-in-Chief of Susana is an Argentinean immigrant who started her own small business over 20 years ago. Now, through her new digital platform and social media channels, she advocates for the economic empowerment of Latinas in the United States.

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