CALN >> When German Herrera was asked how many hours he worked in a day, he responded 25. When he was told there were only 24 hours in a day, he said he borrows one hour from the previous day and applies it to the current day.
It’s not true, of course, but Herrera learned early that putting in long hours and working hard would get him places. Born in Mexico, he immigrated to Kennett Square decades ago to find a better opportunity. He got a job working at Phillips Mushrooms in Kennett Square, not making much, but he worked very hard.
He was driven by the desire to get his children into college.
That hard work paid big dividends. Today, he owns three businesses, the latest an authentic Mexican restaurant called Casa Herrera in Thorndale, the former site of a Pizza Hut.
Today, three of his children are in college and prospering.
Herrera saw an opportunity in Thorndale because he realized there was not an authentic Mexican restaurant from Coatesville to Downingtown. He owns and operates a small Mexican grocery market in Coatesville and formerly owned a Mexican meat market at the corner of Lincoln Highway and Route 82.
But Herrera knew that undertaking an endeavor as big as opening a restaurant that would be staffed by dozens of employees meant taking a huge risk. So Herrera attended a seminar sponsored by Miguel Alban, winner of the 2014 Chester County Community Foundation Legacy award. Alban operates the nonprofit Hispanic Approach, which helps Hispanics to understand how to successfully own and operate a small business.
“I learned how to take risk, how not to be afraid of investing and how to persevere,” said German, 47, who speaks little English. “And of course I needed the support of my wife, Maria.”
The restaurant has been open for a couple of months now, and it’s thriving. That’s because Herrera put to use the tactics he learned at the Hispanic Approach seminar. His menu at first was too “Anglo,” as he said, so he changed it to meet customer expectations. He learned that people who visited Mexico wanted a realistic experience and now he provides it. Most Mexican restaurants serve Fajitas with rice, but that’s not how it’s done off the border.
“I update the menu to meet customers’ requests,” Herrera said. “People know what real Mexican food is, and I want them to get it here.”
Casa Herrera has a fully-stocked bar with 22 employees. The inside has been completely rehabbed, but still bears a slight resemblance of the former Pizza Hut. The building was vacant for four years before Herrera bought it.
The place is packed when he brings in a Mariachi band on the weekends. The waiters and waitresses are friendly, and many are bilingual.
Herrera said he never considered opening up a Mexican restaurant in his hometown of Kennett Square because there are already too many of them there.
Herrera said he envisions opening up more restaurants because he wants to be secure in his retirement years. He often visits his hometown in Mexico to visit his sister and father.
“I like to keep working hard,” he said. “Maybe soon I can open a second or third restaurant, and then travel.”