El Patron opens its doors to Campustown

Asia Pruckler, left, and Breanna Flynn, right, enjoy their lunches at El Patron, a new Mexican restaurant on Welch Avenue.

Mindy Dickerson

There’s a lot of work that must go into building a new business, especially when you construct it yourself. 

The owners of the new Mexican restaurant on Welch Avenue, El Patron, spent seven months building and designing the business by themselves. The three co-owners of El Patron are Martin Morales, 29, Gabriel Guzman, 28, and Miguel Guzman, 41.

“Saving money was a big part of it,” Gabriel Guzman said. “Another reason was because it was something we wanted to do for ourselves.”

The three partners all have previous experience with construction; the Guzman brothers even began their own construction business together. All three of the owners painted the entire restaurant and built the tables and booths, among other things. The process cost about $180,000.

There were only a few things the partners weren’t able to do by themselves.

“There were some things we needed for the license like plumbing and electric, but we would have done it ourselves if we could have,” Gabriel Guzman said.

Not only did the owners have experience in construction, they also had experience in working in restaurants. They all had family members who either worked or owned other Mexican restaurants throughout Iowa.

“I’ve been working in [Mexican] restaurants for 15 years,” Morales said. “I saw opportunities to make my own restaurant. I wanted a better life for me and my kid.”

After visiting a friend in Ames, Morales decided to move here from California.

“I came here for vacation, but I liked the atmosphere, so I decided to move here for work,” Morales said.

Although the new restaurant is serving many customers, it is still difficult to say how successful it will be in the long run.

“Most business experts conform to a theory of ‘thirds’: Of all the new business startups, one-third eventually turn a profit, one-third break even and one-third never leave a negative earnings scenario,” said Jing Zhang, assistant professor of management. “According to a study by the U.S. Small Business Association, only two-thirds of all small business startups survive the first two years, and less than half make it to four years.”

“The point is that chances of longevity are not high,” said Howard Vanauken, professor of finance. “Restaurant failure is among the highest of all categories of small firms.”

Despite the bleak future of some restaurants, El Patron remains positive.

“We have good service, and we spend more time on our food,” Gabriel Guzman said. “It takes longer, but that’s OK.”

The future of El Patron will remain in the hands of the patrons and the employees. While it is still very young, it is gaining notoriety by word of mouth.

“One of my friends told me to come here [to El Patron] because it’s good,” said senior Martin Braun. “It’s a little noisy, but it’s all right.”

The owners work to serve their customers as best as they can.

“Even if a person doesn’t leave tips, I’m still going to give you good service because I want you to come back,” Gabriel Guzman said. “It isn’t about the tips, the customers are important.”

El Patron distinguishes itself from other Mexican restaurants in town through a variety of other ways.

“I feel like we have a lot of good food and service,” Morales said. “We keep [the restaurant] very clean, and we’re very courteous to the customers to keep them coming back.”