Achieving the American dream

Exequiel Soltero, owner of Maya's (gentleman in orange shirt), stands with his UW BEDC Student Consulting group.
Exequiel Soltero, owner of Maya’s (front row, third from left), stands with his UW BEDC Student Consulting group and advisors.

Exequiel Soltero arrived in the U.S. from his small hometown on the southwestern border of Mexico determined to pursue the “American Dream” via the traditional culinary delights of his native Mexico.

A positive mindset, entrepreneurial spirit, and desire to provide for his family aided Exequiel to labor through the restaurant industry, beginning as a dishwasher and progressing to a waiter. By 1979 Exequiel had accumulated enough savings to open his own restaurant devoted to Mexican cuisine, Maya’s Family Mexican Restaurant in Seattle’s Rainier Valley neighborhood. Staying true to the restaurant’s name, and Exequiel’s initial motivations for opening a restaurant, each and every one of his siblings—nine sisters and three brothers—spent time working together to build a strong foundation for Maya’s.

Nearly 35 years later, Exequiel’s authentic recipes have lured a solid following, and allowed him to expand well beyond the original 850-square-foot restaurant. Maya’s brand now includes a full-service Mexican restaurant and a growing catering service.

As the trend of mobile food trucks is continuing to grow, Maya’s has launched a fleet of food trucks that will soon be located next to Seattle’s CenturyLink Field during Seahawks and Sounders FC games, as well as on Microsoft’s Redmond campus during weekday lunch hours. With growth, however, comes new challenges and Exequiel realized that success of Maya’s new division-based business hinged on seeking outside guidance.

Exequiel, who has been a long-time friend and partner of the Business & Economic Development Center (BEDC), turned to the BEDC’s to participate in our Student Consulting Program to help him reach his business goals:  “I was motivated to participate with the BEDC Student Consulting Program because I was interested in growing my business, and what better way to grow my business than to get the input from business students, teachers, mentors and advisors.”

The BEDC’s Student Consulting Program improves management and marketing skills of small business in under-served communities with the aid of teams comprised of of business students and faculty of the UW Foster School of Business, Foster alumni, and mentors drawn from the Seattle Rotary Club. Exequiel explained what he was hoping to gain from his participation with the Student Consulting Program:

 “I was hoping to receive a different perspective from my own. I have several ideas and visions for the restaurant and catering department, but I felt I needed to get the opinion from someone who has valuable input that could help change the way I do business.”

Through the Student Consulting Program, Exequiel, along with 14 other business owners, was provided advice from his student consulting team on how to strategically grow all divisions of Maya’s, including specially-tailored marketing strategies and financial/managerial guidance.

Now, as Exequiel’s interaction with his student consulting group concludes and he begins the process of actualizing the plans and goals presented with the continuing support of his BEDC mentors and advisors, he has great hope for his company’s future:

“I feel very positive about the future of my business, especially with all the recommendations the student team had to offer at the presentation [of their findings]. I learned the importance of sending out thank you notes to all catering customers upon completion of their event, [the value of] up-selling, tips to get my food cost and labor back to a respectable percentage, and that having someone managing our social media outlets would dramatically help with sales and customer retention.”

If you are business interested in being a part of the 2013-2014 Student Consulting Program, or if you have any questions about the Program, please contact Wil Tutol at wtutol@uw.edu.

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