Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing the co-founders and business partners of Cancun Grille, Max W. Kuebler and Behzad (Ben) Manzoor. This dynamic duo brings to the table more than 40 years of combined experience as they embark on a new business venture they’re both very passionate about. Here’s some of what they had to say.
An Interview with Co-founder Max W. Kuebler
By Fran Conaway
FC: Briefly explain what motivated you to begin this business venture known as Cancun Grille?
MK: Two very close friends of mine encouraged me to get into the business. Both are doing very well and have expanded locally. One has two Mexican restaurants up and running, the other three. They’re here in the L.A. area. Although there’s room for hundreds more in Southern California, my plans are to start here but then also expand to other states. We will build and operate Company-owned restaurants and hopefully start franchising within 18 to 24 months after opening our first unit.
FC: Why has the food industry become so successful in recent years?
MK: I remember in the ‘50s and ‘60s when Dads worked and Mothers stayed home and prepared breakfast, lunch and dinner. There were very few restaurants and not enough money in most families to enjoy dining out. Restaurants with international flavors such as Chinese, Mexican, Italian and now more from other countries only existed in larger cities. But, things have changed because today, both parents work and families are smaller. People have more disposable income and don’t care to slave away in the kitchen preparing meals when it’s cheaper to eat out and more fun tasting the flavorful dishes of other cultures.
FC: What are your goals to reach and, later, exceed this level of success?
MK: To start, we will build a concept restaurant in an up and coming area where we are currently looking at promising sites. Our first location will double as a training center for others to follow. We’re choosing the Antelope Valley, a part of L.A. County, as our first restaurant site. This location has been carefully selected since it’s the fastest-growing area in Southern California. Multi-billion-dollar government contracts assure a money supply to these valley residents with thousands of newcomers arriving yearly. Our surveys indicate the Palmdale, Lancaster, Victorville and Tehachapi areas can easily support 8 to 12 Cancun Grille establishments in the next 18 to 24 months. After that, we will expand Company-owned stores into other areas and hopefully start franchising into more Western states. Our goals have success written all over them.
FC: How does your professional experience and background aid you in starting this operation?
MK: I have several years of experience working in the food and beverage business. Also, for more than 20 years, I authored business startup articles in a trade publication while lecturing in the U.S., Puerto Rico, and Canada on starting and managing businesses. Some of the topics covered included business plans, proper record keeping, how to choose the best locations, how to select a business name, sole proprietorship versus forming a corporation, understanding competition and the advantage you have when you do have competitors. And, I covered other topics like marketing, advertising, purchasing and promotion. For many years I was a member of the Gold Pennant Gourmet Society, a group consisting of more than 15 very qualified food and wine experts. We would visit upscale establishments where we’d tour the facilities including the kitchen and wine cellar, enjoy a multi-course gourmet meal with several wines and then present awards to the owners, chef and maitre d’.
FC: Please share with us a little bit about your business partner Behzad (Ben) Manzoor.
MK: My partner and fellow founder of Cancun Grille, Ben Manzoor, has extensive knowledge of the food industry and probably the finest reputation in the Mexican restaurant business. Ben came to this country from Iran so that he could attend college and had to learn English as a second language. To pay his way through school, Ben took his first job at a leading Mexican restaurant in the L.A. area. He started as a server and soon after was promoted to be a cook, training under cooks from Mexico who couldn’t speak English. Today, Ben is fluent in English and Spanish. He chose the food and beverage business since that’s the work he did as a young man in Iran.
FC: How did you meet Ben and why did you choose him?
MK: Actually, my daughter, Tamara, discovered Ben for me. She had been observing his work ethics for several weeks at a restaurant she frequents and was impressed with his professionalism. She told Ben that her Dad was interested in finding someone experienced and in the Mexican food and beverage business and his reply was, “Introduce us.” When I met him, I was tremendously impressed with his vast knowledge of the industry and knew then that the two of us would make Cancun Grille a leading upscale quick casual restaurant. I trusted Tamara’s choice since she put herself through college earning both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree and completing two years toward her Doctorate, all from earnings she received working from restaurants and retail establishments. With those credentials, I knew I had to trust her judgment and meet Ben.
FC: What would you like to see the Company doing in the next 5 years?
MK: Our goal is to be operating between 20 and 30 units each generating $2 million in revenue annually and expanding into other parts of the country. Mexican food cooked fresh without lard or MSG is healthier for the consumer than other popular foods. It’s better than hamburgers and fries (too much fat), Chinese food (too much sugar in the sauce), and obviously healthier for you than pizza. Mexican dishes offer wonderful selections for breakfast, lunch and dinner. What other international cultures can please the American palate morning, noon and night? It’s also inexpensive to prepare and assures bigger profits. Besides, people from every background enjoy eating Mexican food. In fact, on January 31st, KCAL Channel 9 News reported that eating tortilla chips can add years to your life simply by reducing your cholesterol because of certain ingredients found in the chip.