UIC Business caught up with alumnus Manny Favela BS ’88 and asked him six questions about his career experience in the restaurant industry.
1) What inspired you to become an entrepreneur and found Burrito Parrilla Mexicana?
My decision to retire from McDonald’s after nearly 30 years was mostly driven by two reasons: I wanted to spend more time with my family and I wanted to dedicate the rest of my life to making a difference in people’s lives in the areas of faith, employment and education. Burrito Parrilla Mexicana is my attempt to address the employment aspect of the objective. The vision of Burrito Parrilla Mexicana is to develop a business model with a positive work environment where people are treated with dignity and respect, and the success of the business would be shared with employees.
2) What are some of your guiding principles as a business owner and restauranteur?
I strongly believe that a business must have a broader vision than just profitability; we all have a responsibility to contribute to the improvement of society in every aspect. I would hate to get to the later years of my life and struggle to come up any valuable contributions for the benefit of anyone other than myself and my family. So with that in mind, I try to make all business decisions with a broader perspective and I ask myself important questions when making business decisions that impact others.
3) How do your ethics around operating a restaurant impact your business’s performance?
I believe that we should lead by example. I am a person of faith, so it is imperative for me to follow rules and laws in everything I do. As a business grows, I must rely on my employees and suppliers to conduct themselves with integrity, and if I don’t lead by example why should anyone else? This allows for trusting and lasting relationships in a healthy business environment. In this type of environment, employees and suppliers protect and look out for the best interests of the business. There is a cost to one’s business when it is operated ethically, and it may be a competitive disadvantage in the short term, but unethical behavior is never sustainable in the long term and will eventually destroy the business.
4) What has been the key to scaling your restaurant concept effectively, and how have you maintained a quality experience for diners at all your restaurants?
We knew that in order to provide certain benefits to our employees, the organization needed to grow, and we also knew the challenges that come with expansion especially in the areas of providing consistency in quality and service. From the beginning, we decided that we would grow at a steady pace so that the organization had a chance to keep up with such growth. Right now we now have nine locations, soon to be 11, and our pace of growth has been maintained at one to two locations per year. It is possible that we could have handled a more rapid expansion, but we wanted to be cautious to protect the quality of life for our employees, and have the ability to supervise each restaurant without losing the pulse of our business and the connection with our customers. It requires a significant investment in people and the need to overstaff the restaurants with future growth in mind, which can be a significant cost to the business in the short term.
5) What aspect(s) of Burrito Parrilla Mexicana are you most proud of?
I am most proud of the work environment we are creating for our employees. We are currently offering above average wages in comparison to the restaurant industry as a whole. We also provide additional benefits like health insurance, 401(k) retirement plans, an educational assistance program and a bonus program for key employees. These programs are not common in the restaurant industry, much less a restaurant business of our size.
6) Based on your career experiences, what advice would you give UIC Business students and alumni?
My only advice is to never lose sight of who you are and what is important to you. I think everyone gets an education with the intention to have a good life, but somehow in the pursuit of career success, some people get lost and end up chasing success at the cost of a good and balanced lifestyle. Never forget that we work to live; we do not live to work. My other advice is to not waste your life chasing the future or trying to be something you are not. Enjoy the ride and every phase of your career. Too often we spend our lives dreaming about what’s next or what we want to be in life and somehow forget that the present moment is the most important moment. Tomorrow may never come, and even if it does, it will likely be different than what you imagined or expected it to be. Just take a look at everything going on right now with the coronavirus pandemic: how fast life changes in so little time, and how fast priorities change. So, in summary: enjoy the moment, enjoy life, make a difference in people’s lives today, as you may not be able to do it tomorrow, and always be yourself. If your employer does not appreciate who you are, you are probably at the wrong company.