G-Sync: Marielena and Salvia Cano’s growing restaurant empire began in a neighborhood garage.

Who hasn’t dreamed of starting something only to be discouraged by the enormity of the task before us? Quite often, the very best (and most critical) steps at this moment are just to begin confidently on the journey.

Lucky for us, we have a great story of two such individuals in our region, who not only took that first leap to build their confidence but over the process of their first three months, warmed a lot of stomachs in their neighborhood before advancing to those next steps on their journey.

This month, Rapid Growth returned on Thursday, November 7 to WGVU's Morning Show with Shelley Irwin, welcoming startup restaurateurs and sisters Marielena and Salvia Cano who, just like those tech giant’s humble roots formation stories that we have been entertained with for decades, opened a pop-up restaurant in a home’s garage.

You can listen to our interview here and then go deeper as the creators of El Toro Bravo and Señor Sol Restaurante answer additional questions we did not have time to ask on the radio.

One last note, because I am certain a lot of us will be over leftover turkey by the end of the big holiday weekend, why not add a stop to El Toro Bravo? While I was there enjoying a generous and hearty bowl of pozole, I soon found myself being invited to join a lively conversation initiated by others dining near my booth. 

For folks seeking a place where a smile is served with every amazing dish that you can order here, I cannot say enough wonderful things about these two women who took a step and created many wonderful memories for folks who venture to try their food. 

Tommy Allen

(Due to the busy life of running two restaurants, Salvia Cano answered our questions, below.)

Tommy Allen: I really enjoyed spending time with you on the WGVU Morning Show with Shelley Irwin. While on the radio, we discussed your garage restaurant’s debut and how it ran for about three months after you decided you wanted to open a restaurant. Who was the first person you called once you set out to make this a reality? 

Salvia Cano: When we made the decision to start the restaurant, we started by going to the City of Grand Rapids to obtain the information we needed in order to move forward and get the necessary license. We did not have any idea of what to do. We sought out other people in the community to get information and to our surprise, we did not find anyone to help us in the community.  

It was very difficult for us to make it happen because we do not speak English.*  After we had completed the process, then we reached out to the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (WMHCC) and found out about all the programs they had available. We went down to the chamber and discovered that we have someone that can assist us there. [At the WMHCC, we] have learned about marketing, human resources, financials, customer service, and so much more.

TA: Moving from a garage pop-up eatery to your first restaurant opening surely took some time but it also must have had a lot of folks anxiously craving to enjoy your food. So how did you keep engaged with those first customers/fans of your delicious cuisine as you sought to open El Toro Bravo? 

SC: I knew that our beginning was going to be difficult because we did not have a lot of education. I always wanted to keep my clients happy, so I created and maintained a list of all my clients. When we were ready to open, my sister and I started calling everyone on the list and asked them to invite friends and family. During that time, we did not have to spend money doing a lot of marketing because people were bringing their friends and family members to our restaurant.

TA: As you progressed to open your first restaurant, why was it so important to echo the ranch-style of eating at El Toro Bravo? 

SC: The reason we made the decision to echo the ranch-style of eating was that [it] is a reflection of our childhood and a chance to share how our life was. Our family is very important to us and we wanted to make sure that we share with this community the way my mom taught us how to prepare food. We wanted to bring to this area the love and affection we received from our family to all the people in our community. I realize that it takes a lot of time to prepare the foods, but it’s so important to ensure that we continue to provide quality and great service so we can honor my mom and dad and make them feel proud. 

TA: Small business owners can often face a high failure rate, so were there any tools or organizations that assisted to not just ensure you had a successful opening of El Toro Bravo but could also provide enthusiastic encouraging and knowledgeable support for the opening of your second restaurant Señor Sol Restaurante?

SC: The organization that we have been working with very closely is the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce/Transformando West Michigan Program. We have also worked very closely with local media outlets to help us stay in contact with a broader community. One of the things that we realized is the importance of working together with other restaurants in the area. We help each other and are aware of what each restaurant specializes in so we can provide information and send a customer to others [in our neighborhood]. 

TA: Loving what you do goes a long way but so does having a family to support you as you and your sister clearly have. What other factors are key to your success?

SC: We made the decision to move to that location because we wanted to grow. We noticed that at the other location, we were not able to grow and [growth] was very important for us. God gave us the opportunity to find that location and so we wanted to give something different in our community. [In the end,] we wanted to provide a beautiful space for our community.

Tommy: Now that you have opened two restaurants in our area, what advice do you have to anyone looking to start a food-based business? 

SC: The advice we will give anyone is that they need to find those organizations that can help. Continue to be prepared. Work with a chamber of commerce that is willing to help you as much as possible, be around people that have your best interest at heart, and continue to have faith in yourself. 


Follow these links to learn more about the food and other offerings of El Toro Bravo and Señor Sol Restaurante.

*Editor's note: Both sisters speak English but are more comfortable speaking Spanish. We worked with Ana Jose, Program Manager at the West Michigan Hispanic Chamber of Commerce's (WMHCC) Transformando West Michigan to assist with the translation. It was edited for flow and only as necessary.) 
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