Oscar Chimal El Jefe of Fat City
By AnaMaria Bech
Click aqui para español- > Oscar Chimal El Jefe de Fat City
Oscar Chimal is a hardworking 27-year-old and el jefe (the owner) of Los Jefes Authentic Mexican Cuisine in Metairie. After working in the service industry, he took on the challenge of opening his own venue in Fat City in Metairie. Today, Los Jefes is attracting people from all over town.
Fat City has not been a hip place for a while, but the popularity of Taco Tuesdays at Los Jefes has really changed the perception of the area and has made this authentic Mexican food venue one of the hippest destinations in the once upon a time nightlife area of Metairie.
We spoke to Oscar Chimal about his life and business to find out how he’s made Los Jefes so successful.
Let’s start from the beginning. Where did you grow up?
I was born in Mexico and moved to Kenner in 2002 when I was 11 years old.
How did you get started in the restaurant business?
I had to make a living for myself. There wasn’t a career that I loved. I started in the restaurant business when I was 15 bussing tables at Andrea’s Restaurant, and then at 17 went to work in the French Quarter. I worked at Oceana Grill and moved into management two years later. I helped open Bobby Hebert’s place and started on my own when I was 24.
How did you start Los Jefes?
My friend Terry had the building here. We worked together to get it ready, but he never got to open his Po Boy shop due to personal circumstances. Seeing all the work I had put into the business he hinted I should take over the lease. I wasn’t looking to be on my own, or wasn’t in the position financially, but I still called the landlord and I got a decent deal, so I took the chance. I had to borrow money from my parents and friends. I had a partner who ended up going elsewhere soon after. After he did, we really gave it our all. My brother and my sister got behind the business and they really helped me get it going strong.
Why did you take the risk to start a business with little money?
I always liked to gamble with businesses. Even before the restaurant work, I bought and sold cars on my own. Sometimes I made money, but many times I lost. I liked to try different avenues, got involved with MLM companies and invested money in those. I failed at so many different things, in so many ways, but it did not faze me because my will was a lot stronger than the failures I faced.
So even after your ‘failures’ people still backed you financially?
People trusted me with their money and supported my vision. I had my parents lend their savings, a former boss also gave me some cash, my siblings added up. They believed in me because they saw my drive. Within the first month they saw that I was going to be able to make the money to pay back and to make something out of the business.
Where did you get that all or nothing attitude?
When we came from Mexico, my family did not have proper documentation. Throughout high school, I knew what was happening. My classmates were studying hard to get a career or training hard to get a sports scholarship, but those were not options for me at the time. I knew my parents had gone through so much for us. I couldn’t live with the thought of my parents having to sacrifice their entire life to have us here, so that I wouldn’t do anything with myself. I wanted to make something of myself for them, and to be an example for my siblings.
How did you decide on a Mexican restaurant?
My mom always cooked at home and I grew up eating homemade meals. A lot of the Mexican restaurants around here are Tex Mex food, but I knew if we introduced something authentic, made from scratch every day, it would work. The food is delicious, it’s made with love, and that’s what the people pay for when they come here.
What’s your competitive advantage?
Besides the quality of food, I really learned about customer service. My siblings also had worked with me wherever I worked and knew how we like to treat customers. We teach our staff how to treat everybody with respect. We are big on paying attention to the small details, that’s what gets us further and separates us from everyone else.
How did you thrive in Fat City?
Tommy Cvitanovich from Drago’s started coming around and wanted to know how I was making it work in this location after he couldn’t make his burger joint succeed. I opened with a very affordable menu and big portions, I passed out flyer’s in the apartment complexes and businesses around. In the beginning there was no profit, but then I started gaining volume and it got the word out in Fat City. With the little money we made, I started advertising out of Fat City and we got people from everywhere. The same dish I was selling at $10 in the beginning is worth way more now. It took hard work to build the reputation and to build value in the place and the business.
How are you helping the area improve?
Just like Tommy, we are investing in the area. We have acquired leases for six properties around the restaurant, offices and parking spaces, and now we have the corner building with the new dining area. We are investing in the area and raising its value.
With being so young and with so much going on, how do you keep focused?
My brother is always my brake. I’m always trying to do too many things and he questions me. Last year, I invested in a restaurant in New Orleans and a bar. I ended up selling them because it was too much. My brother brought me back and reminded me that I needed to focus on Los Jefes and fill the new dining room. I always want to do too many things and have so many ideas, but my brother and sister keep me grounded. I may have become the face of Los Jefes, but the credit of what we have accomplished is because of my family and my mentors. I’m here because of the employees and because of my brother and my sister.
What does it take to succeed?
I have been burnt so many times, but it is worth it to make all those mistakes. You are always learning. To succeed it takes seeing what nobody else sees, which is faith. Having a vision where there is no vision. I’d always see myself being successful. Because I believed in this vision of success, I strived for it every day. I put a lot of pressure on myself, my circumstances put a lot of pressure on me, but my vision was always very clear to me only. It takes believing in yourself.
What was that vision?
To be somebody that my parents were proud of and to be in a position in which I could support them financially. The restaurant has been my platform to get there, I felt comfortable stepping in this industry, it’s what I knew, and I felt confident I could be successful. But the restaurant was an avenue that allowed me to provide a future for my parents, and for my brother and sister.