Growing up in Guadalajara with a family of 10 kids, cooking mass amounts of dinner every night and pitching in a helping hand was part of sisters Leticia Rabehl and Irma Valdivia’s childhoods.
Cooking great Mexican food, with fresh ingredients in a home kitchen, and feeding a large clan at the family dinner table, was something engrained in these sisters. Later on in life, the question was how to put those good eats, and the family cooking talents, into a business.
In late 2005, after visiting some uncles’ restaurants in Arkansas and Oklahoma, Valdivia started to see the potential for an Idaho business. “Being around the restaurants and just thinking, ‘Why not? Why don’t we fulfill our dream of having our business and this be part of it?’ It just kind of felt natural,” Valdivia said.
Of course, starting anything from scratch can prove to be a struggle, and starting up the first Jalapeño’s restaurant in 2006 was in fact, a challenge for the sisters. “It took a lot of work. It took a CPA to help us put together a business plan,” Rabehl said. But these sisters were never afraid to ask for the help they needed to get up and running.
“It took three brothers, two sisters, us two, my mom; I mean, everyone, everyone lending a hand every day,” Valdivia said. “You really cannot do this on your own. Unless you have the money to hire 500 professionals, you really do need to count on your family to help you.”
“It took an army, and do you know what? We made a lot of mistakes along the way,” Rabehl said. “But we learned from it and that’s why we opened the second location. It was a lot easier.”
These sisters didn’t just open a thriving restaurant in Nampa during 2006, before the economy started to take a downturn; they opened a “sister” location in Boise in 2009 when the business world looked much different – and wasn’t as kind to new and small business owners.
The first time around the sisters found it difficult to find a good piece of property for a good price, when everything was much more expensive in a better real estate market. Luckily, Rabehl took the lead on this task with her strengths in real estate and found the best space she could for the Nampa restaurant.
In 2009, luckily, finding property proved to be much easier. Prices were down and there was much more to choose from; however, that was because different businesses were closing all around town. Rabehl and Valdivia refused to take this as a sign of discouragement and carried on with their plan.
“I actually believe that this is a good time to open a new business. I think when you have a good product, and you know what you’re doing, patience is the key,” Rabehl said. Patience and planning, they said, were what it took for them to make it through the roughest part of opening the doors of the Boise Jalapeño’s.
The sisters said planning is still the key to their success – not just planning for the “wedding,” so to speak, but planning for the long-term marriage and commitment to a successful business.
“We knew the first year would be slow. It takes time to build a good business,” Rabehl said. Making small goals for each year of business, then setting new goals, is essential. Sometimes you can be pleasantly surprised when you exceed those goals, the women said.
They do their best to always keep their wits about them. Valdivia said it’s not about reaching that dream of owning your own business, then buying the new car, the bigger house, the boat, or taking elaborate vacations. Don’t plan on owning a business to live a lavish lifestyle, because that’s how a lot of new business owners end up going out of business.
By keeping their prices fair, and saving their pennies for a rainy day, Rabehl and Valdivia plan for the long haul. “If we are making more money than we anticipated we would, then we put that money away so if the next year we aren’t doing as well as we planned, or a fryer breaks down, or a cooler, or whatever might happen, we have that money there,” Valdivia said.
Being ready for anything is the key to their success and helped them through opening a business when the economy was good to opening a second business in the midst of a recession.
However, they are not ignorant to the current economic climate and do realize that much of society is eating out less and cutting corners wherever possible; but, they said, they feel blessed to have clientele that are just like family.
It is important to Rabehl and Valdivia to give back to a community that has done so much for them. Jalapeño’s has done several things to give back, from sponsoring Little League teams to putting on elaborate fundraisers for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
“It makes the community stronger in so many ways, and with a stronger community, we have a stronger restaurant,” Valdivia said.