Latinx business owners bringing value to Utah

Story and photos by KAELI WILTBANK

Hector Uribe stepped out from behind the restaurant kitchen, dressed in a white apron and a University of Utah cap. He sat down on a stool inside the lobby of the restaurant his father-in-law passed on to him in 2011 and began explaining his journey toward becoming a business owner.

Uribe explained that he grew up in Mexico and learned the value of hard work from a young age. He explained, “I ditched school when I was in sixth grade, so I was 11 years old when I went to work for somebody else to make money to help out the family.”

Uribe came to the United States from Mexico when he was just 17 years old and started working at his father-in-law’s restaurant weeks after his arrival in 1992. His plan was to save enough money to open up a hardware store back in Mexico. But, he said business owners in Mexico face great dangers because they are at risk of being robbed by the cartel. Uribe realized greater success was awaiting him as a business owner in Salt Lake City.

Hector’s, the chosen name of the company after Uribe took it over, has become a popular Mexican food destination for locals, with both the man and his food becoming iconic elements of the community.

A group of students from Highland High School recently came and interviewed Uribe about his journey as a business owner, he said. They were looking to speak with a successful person in the community, but Uribe explained, “I don’t see myself that way, I just think I am hard working.”

Salt Lake City was recently ranked as one of the best metropolitan areas for minority entrepreneurs to start a business. With the Latinx population becoming the second most rapidly growing demographic of the state of Utah, there has been a corresponding influx of Latinx-owned businesses. 

According to the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development, 10,000 businesses in the state of Utah are Latinx-owned and operated. 

Rebecca Chavez-Houck, a former Utah State House representative, is a third-generation American, with her grandfather immigrating to the United States from Mexico. While immigrants like Uribe are seen as successful business owners, Chavez-Houck is familiar with the negative connotations associated with immigrants. She said, “There is this notion of the deficit within communities of color, instead of looking at where our strengths are. Yes, notably persons of color are more within the criminal justice system. We have challenges with poverty and a variety of different things, but that’s not all who we are.” She added, “We are a much more complex community than that.”

Nera Economic Consulting found that nationally, “Latinos are responsible for 29 percent of the growth in real income since 2005.” With successful Hispanic-owned businesses dotting the Utah map, the positive impact brought by the Latinx community is significant to the local economy. The study continued, “They account for roughly 10 cents of every dollar of US national income, and that proportion is rising both due to growth in the Latino population and rising per capita earnings.” 

Uribe spoke with gratitude as he described the opportunity he has had to operate a business of his own. “When we come over here we are happy to have a job. I don’t say it’s a necessity for Hispanics to own their own business, but if there’s an opportunity you need to take it. It’s not as easy to start a business there (in Mexico).”

Alex Guzman, president and CEO of the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, explained to a group of students at the University of Utah, “The Hispanic business community, in the majority of cases, open businesses not because they want to be an entrepreneur, but because they have to provide for their families, so they become business owners with no intention of becoming business owners. But,” he said, “as business owners, they need to learn how to run a business. They need to learn how to file taxes, they need to know how to hire, how to do invoicing, how to deal with customers, how to marketing and sales, human resources, legal issues, etc.”

Offering resources and a supportive community, the UHCC provides local Latinx business owners and entrepreneurs with valuable tools they need to succeed. Guzman explained, “We created a program called The Business Academy. Every 10 weeks we start a new program where we train the Hispanic community on how to do business in the U.S.” 

The rapidly growing Latinx community in Utah has made an impact on the local economy and culture of the state. Resources offered by the Utah Hispanic Chamber of Commerce have become valuable tools for business owners and entrepreneurs like Uribe. His words of wisdom to other entrepreneurial-minded people in the community was, “You’ve got to do everything you can and do it the best you can so you don’t ever feel like you left something behind. The world is full of opportunities and you just need to feel which one you want to take.”

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