If you are a taco lover who has been waiting to have the true Mexican taco delicatessen specialty in Goleta, your wait is almost over. Why? Because Lilly’s Taquería will be arriving at the Kmart shopping center very soon (where La Carreta used to be.) So, armed with this very timely information (thank you, John Dickson), I called the owners, Sonia Guido and Jose Sepulveda, for an interview. I wanted them to share their success with readers — and to help those who might be thinking about starting a business with a little advice on how to start one, but most importantly, which mistakes to avoid.
“Don’t ever start a business you don’t know” is Jose and Sonia’s first piece of advice, as well as “Do something that you know and like” and “Take the risk.” Jose explains that any business can present you with problems that you need to solve. Here’s where knowing the business you get into is key: “If you don’t know the business, you don’t know how to solve its problems either. And, if you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re going to get burned out pretty quickly.”
Lilly’s Tacos started in Santa Barbara in December 2004. Jose’s family has always been in the taco business back in his hometown of La Piedad, Michoacán, Mexico. “I grew up in the business. Once in Santa Barbara, I first tried my luck by renting a tiny space at a friend’s business during the weekends. It went pretty well, and all my friends encouraged me to ‘go for it.’ Finally, I found this little place, but I wasn’t complete convinced.”
It was Sonia, with her determination, that convinced him to make the decision: “¡Aviéntate! [Go for it!] You know what you’re doing, and you’re good at it. Why not? Otherwise, you’ll always be wondering: What if I did?”
What about money? Were you scared to risk it?
Sonia Guido: Because we were planning this, we had saved some money, but it is always scary. That’s why when he found this little locale [originally, it was not even half of what it is now), it was the perfect place, and the rent was quite affordable.
What made you decide to have the variety of tacos you have: ojo (eyeball), cabeza (head), lengua (tongue), and tripas (tripe), aside from the asada and the adobada?
Jose Sepulveda: Because I envisioned this variety to be my niche, I was not even going to have the asada and adobada. Regular tacos are offered everywhere. Why would people travel all the way here if they can get the same thing elsewhere? However, these specialties bring me the clientele. By the way, the tripas I didn’t have originally, people requested them, and we listened.
What else has contributed to your success?
SG: Frankly, I believe it’s the way we operate. It is a team of three — Us two and our son Cesar. We all know exactly what to do.
JS: Yes. I take care of the production — from purchasing whatever we need, to cooking, to quality assurance. Sonia does the administrative part — the paperwork and the bookkeeping — and Cesar is operations and marketing. He knows exactly how things should work together, how to offer the best customer service. He is very serious about it and very focused.
Are we missing one member of the family here?
Sonia and Jose respond in unison, with a huge spark in their eyes: Lilly, our daughter, she is 10 years old. Hence the name ‘Lilly’s Taquería.’
Why Goleta and why now?
JS: We’ve been looking for a place in Goleta for a while. Many of our customers are from the area, and they’re always asking us to open another Lilly’s over here. Now, we’ve found the right location — one that will be appealing to families, and students. That’s another part of our vision. We want parents to be able to always bring their children (our future customers) and feel comfortable.
When will the new Lilly’s Taquería open?
JS: We plan to open in October. We will be letting the public know when we do.
Finally, your pearls of wisdom. What are the things to avoid at all cost in your line of business?
JS: In any business, never change the quality or quantity of the products or services you offer because your customers will notice. Do not neglect customer service … and the cleanliness of your place.
SG: Consistency at all levels is the secret. We should always give our 100 percent.
We could have continued our lively conversation, but it was 10:30 a.m., and the customers were already waiting in line for Lilly’s to open, and Jose and Sonia were ready to greet them.
See you soon, at Goleta’s Lilly’s Taquería, 290 Storke Road.