Money and Business

Special report: Small business with big dreams

Can they make it in the current economy?

Mony's restaurant in the Santa Barbara Funk Zone is one of three businesses profiled to see if small business owners have big hopes, with a businessman in the White House. (John Palminteri/KEYT photo)

SANTA BARBARA Co., Calif. - Small business owners with big dreams continue to be an important component in the American economy. In a NewsChannel 3 special report, we look at three local businesses with limited storefronts, simple operations and high hopes at a time when a businessman is the President.

WOLF’S HEAD ANNEX

You do everything you can to get your cut of the American dream these days when running a small business, even if you only have a 200-square foot barber shop.

When you step into Wolf’s Head Annex at 27 1/2 E. Victoria street in Santa Barbara you are already in a crowded space. Even if you are the only customer.

Co-owner Isaac Alvarado said as he worked his way around the business. “Definitely the smallest square footage in Santa Barbara. Smallest shop I've ever seen," he said.

The shop which is fully stocked with scissors, razors and the most modern barber shop equipment is still in the retro mode with a modern style. Located downtown is nice but the approach is more like the guy down the street.

Alvarado says he has built a customer base, “From doing really good haircuts basically. Not only being a good barber but also being a  good friend to most of my clients."

This is a tiny shop, with one barber but it turns a profit.

It’s an offshoot of Wolf’s Head Men’s Clothing and Barber at 432 State Street owned by Cris Sagastume.

He says, "it's one of the only businesses that I have opened and have instantly seen a good return on."

Even with President Donald Trump, a businessman in the White House, Sagastume doesn't see the current policies making a difference on the little guy's level.

"I think the business he is talking about is huge corporate business and the tax breaks he is talking about, we're never going to see it," said Sagastume.

But there are still many hopes and dreams.  

“You open up with the best of intentions," said Sagastume. Comparing State Street to Victoria Street, however, he says, “Putting an awning up there, no problem Doing signage here on State street, a big problem. It's very expensive. It's almost not worth it."

He says a proposed sign is likely going to be turned down and the cost of going back and forth with a review board is not in the financial cards for now. The store has a lettered sign in the front window and a classic spinning barber pole outside the front door.

Sagastume could write some pages in a small business survival guide including ways to deal with government reviews like sign committees. He’s even offered to help other start ups. But he's found the way to beat the odds, especially the mail order impact.

"You can't get a haircut on Amazon.  You can't get the experience that we have on Amazon," he said while standing next to some vintage barber chairs and clothing lines that are unique for the area.

“It's definitely inviting. It's like you have known us for a long time. That's a part of it. Feeling comfortable like you know the person. So for anyone who walks in it's like, ‘hey how are you doing?’ and have a conversation with them."

Up the street at age 28 and clipping a customers hair, Issac Alvarado is dreaming of his business future.

"I can definitely see my self expanding and opening another shop, probably not here in Santa Barbara. Definitely somewhere else. A a bigger city," he said.

CLOUDSPOTTERS

In Solvang, Steven Linderholm is running a one person coffee shop. At Cloudspotters he perks up his customers every day.

"When I serve a cup of coffee it is more than that. You have to give more than just the product.  They want a service. They want a smile they want a conversation," said Linderholm. He is the only employee in his business.   

Between walk in customers and phone orders he is going back and forth from the register to the coffee machines. 

"Welcome I have for you one big mocha,” he said as a customer came in for a pick up.

But this small business had a learning curve from the first brewing days.

"In my first week operating, my fully automatic espresso machine died. I hurriedly bought a Walmart machine and for a month operated with that," said Linderholm. A Buellton coffee machine maker then came into the picture. “I do have a Salvatorre, a custom handmade machine and it makes great coffee."

His current location at 435 Alisal Road is around the corner from a prior site that was essentially a covered hallway.

The business plan has a twist and is beyond hot and cold brews.

Customers also share the bookshelves in a lending library. They can buy a book for a couple of dollars, drop off books for others, or sit and browse.

Nearby there is also a wall of vinyl albums. Among the wall covering you will find Tom Petty next to Bruce Springsteen who is nearby Victor Borge and Michael Jackson. 

"So when they walk out this totally catches their eye and the reactions are mostly joy. People first off find the record they relate to or the artwork that is the most appealing," said Linderholm.

The 80’s modern pop star Blondie was spinning on the turn table to start the day. It created an eclectic perfectly roasted experience.

Linderholm then performs in a deep stage voice, "In a world with Danishes and no good coffee, one man chose to rise above the rest and bring local fresh roasted coffee here for you Solvang."

He too had a sign issue. For now he has some solutions including the name of his business in the window may up of Scrabble letters.

MONY’S MEXICAN TAQUERIA 

Food in the Funk Zone can't be described these days without mentioning Mony's.

Once only a truck on the go, this small business prep kitchen became a "hole in the wall" style restaurant. And people starting talking about "that place." 

"I think think our best marketing has been that - word of mouth," said Carlos Diaz who works side by side with his parents.

Timing was perfect a few years ago when Santa Barbara's Funk Zone started sizzling with new businesses. It was, at first, a number of wine and beer tasting rooms. Then some food places, and more artists mixed in from block to block.

Mony's is a small restaurant but Diaz says, "At the time this was all that we had. We said ‘beggars can't be choosers’  so work with what you got. We found a way to add in three tables inside and slowly but surely our landlord said 'hey you can set up some tables outside?'".

His dad Jose and his mom with the nickname "Mony" have his sister, brother, relatives and friends on the staff.

“You can  definitely taste the love in the cooking and those are my mom's recipes. She really puts her own heart and soul into it,” said Diaz. “Not just in the cuisine but also in the salsa. We have pistachio and peanut salsa. That's unheard of right now."

When you order at Mony’s, you are about three steps from the crew making it.

Diaz stood near the busy grill and gestured to the staff saying, “My dad handles burritos and quesadillas and my Uncle Vito handles tacos and tortas. Then they interchange with the rest of the menu and that's what makes it quick."

He says he is so proud of his parents, and their determination in the food business with challenges ranging from health reviews to zoning rules. They all appreciate customers coming to a small family owned business, without a flashy lit up sign out front, and sometimes a long wait.

It's off the beaten path but the customer support goes a long way.  

He shared the financial flow many customers don’t see as they order and eat. "You are not just contributing to the business you are contributing to a small child that is going to school or someone going through college or someone's health insurance. We are definitely in that spotlight, we are a small business and we do rely on the customers a lot."

Asked if Mony’s put him through college? Diaz said, “Oh absolutely, yeah!"

For more information on these businesses go to:

Cloudspotters, 435 Alisal Rd Solvang, CA 93463, 805-734-7627

Wolfs Head, https://shopwolfshead.com.

Mony's Mexican Taqueria, http://monyssb.com.


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