May 15, 2014 - By Alejandra Silva, Staff WriterIt took about three years for a young couple to start their own business in Fremont County, but persistence finally paid off.
Martin Gonzalez and Yufna Soldier Wolf of St. Stephen's said they set out to start their own taco business -- Pepe's Tacos -- to give locals a "Los Angeles experience" with authentic Mexican food.
Gonzalez said the lack of authentic Mexican food in Riverton convinced him to pursue his entrepreneurial idea of offering a fast food experience from a taco truck similar to what is often seen in Los Angeles. His truck sells tacos, burritos, refried beans, rice and nachos in the parking lot of Sears Home Services at 801 N. Federal Blvd.
"I want to introduce more to Riverton," Gonzalez said. "Just how they do it in LA. That's how I want to do it here."
The couple said they will park their taco truck in the parking lot on the weekends only until they fully train their assisting staff to be open all week. They also offer catering services for any event on or off the reservation.
Their menu offers marinated skirt steak or pork they list as being al pastor. Eventually, he said they want to expand the menu items. The couple agrees Gonzalez is the main cook, and he took his time to develop the tasty recipes he wanted to serve his customers.
"I said, 'That's tastes good, we need to sell that,'" Soldier Wolf said she told him.
They began to research pork recipes as soon as they committed to starting their business and began filling out certificate and license agreements
"We started piecing stuff together at home, and it got easier and easier," Gonzalez said. "We offer a personal marinade on el pastor."
He said he requested recipes from family members and asked his father to taste test his ideas. Other ingredients and items such as tortillas and tortilla chips are obtained from Colorado.
"That's what makes us different from people around here," he said. "We've taken the time to go out and look for different vendors."
He said he decided not to purchase the usual tortillas or chips from local big box retailers and chose to buy fresh, local produce for the food truck's salsas and condiments.
"We did research on where to go and how to get it," Soldier Wolf said.
The couple's journey in starting their business is meant to inspire others interested in similar goals, Gonzalez said. He recommended being patient in the process, because it took them years to figure out on their own what types of paperwork, permission, equipment and planning they would need before they could begin on their business venture.
First, Gonzalez said the entrepreneur's idea has to be fully developed and laid out.
It is not until those details are definite that help can be obtained and questions can be asked.
But there weren't many answers for his business, Gonzalez said. When they first decided to sell only on the Wind River Indian Reservation, Gonzalez said few people could tell them what regulations or codes they needed to meet before going forward.
"People give up probably because there's little guidance and understanding of the codes and regulations," Gonzalez said. "So we thought, 'Until someone tells us we're doing it wrong, we'll keep going.'"
Eventually they decided to open their business in Riverton, and they learned about other license requirements. Still, there were several aspects of starting a business -- such as insurance and inspections -- the couple didn't know about or didn't understand and on several occasions they said they hit a wall.
"It was a learn-as-we-go and with the help of others," Gonzalez said. "But we had to go to them, they didn't come to us."
The Wind River Development Fund in Fort Washakie, a nonprofit corporation that aims to support economic development on the reservation, was one useful source of assistance, they said. The organization helped with the purchase of the trailer but not before the couple provided spreadsheets of projected income and detailed paperwork of their business plan that took Soldier Wolf a year to complete. They had to include background information, education, qualifications, ingredients, licenses and other items.
"If it wasn't for a program like that that helps small businesses then there's a lot of people out there that wouldn't have a small business," Gonzalez said, adding that several had denied them help, but some were supportive.
Property owners said no to having a taco truck parked on their lot and banks denied them a loan. The trailer vendor had many buyers waiting to purchase the truck, but Gonzalez said he insisted on waiting as they finalized the proper paperwork to get funding.
"There were people willing to take a chance on us, and we're grateful for that," Gonzalez said.
Soldier Wolf said she juggled parenting, a new pregnancy and school while Gonzalez worked as a diesel technician in Riverton. They attended business workshops, read books and tried to apply what they learned in college from their business courses.
They were excited on their opening day as they greeted their first customers and invited them to return. Gonzalez said their family members also have shown support, including their siblings who see them as role models.
"We want to give people hope," Gonzalez said. "Anything is possible as much negative things can get into it."
The couple also wanted to create a family business that could be continued.
"The best thing is knowing it's going to pay off ... I want to pay for college for my children," Soldier Wolf said. "It's going to be beneficial for them."
Gonzalez looked as his childhood for motivation.
"I was that kid that didn't get the Christmas present he wanted on Christmas," he said. "I don't want to repeat that story."
Pepe's Tacos is organized as a Wyoming Limited Liability Company that will offer its services on a seasonal basis. The couple said they invested their personal income to launch the business, and they eventually plan to move into an established restaurant setting.
They can be contacted at (323) 807-6444 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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