A Restaurant Named Filiberto’s

Reading Time: 9 minutes

In the middle of mid-town, the once quintessential lavish 1970’s resort area of the city of Tucson, Arizona, nestled between the drug infested Mall Of The Homeless and the iconic 1960’s bar a block away, lies a small Mexican restaurant named Filiberto’s. A small homely feeling place where all of the staff greet you with large smiles and an equally large “hello!”

While the raft of riff that encompasses the neighborhood could be seen as an unpleasant sight, inside the restaurant, the staff don’t even notice, carrying on with happy faces, smiles and a seemingly uncanny ability to not even know what is around them on the outside. With a large selection on the menu and good portions, it is easy to see why this small local spot is a favorite.

Filiberto’s began it’s roots in the small town of Santo Domingo, Mexico. It sits off a winding two lane mountain highway in the state of San Luis Potosí in central Mexico, on almost the same latitude as the coastal resort city of Mazatlán but about a nine hour drive inland. A small municipality of maybe 700 or so people, with little to see from the highway but a modest school and a few roadside refresquerías selling Coca-Cola.

Like a lot of small towns in the southwest area of the US and Mexico, this one was to be no different. It was the Filiberto family that built it. In Santo Domingo, people know Filiberto as a local boxing promoter and one of the four elder Tenorio-Quintero brothers, along with Flavio, Aurelio and Francisco, responsible for keeping their town alive.

In an ironic twist, while the Tenorios started their business in America, opening their first restaurant in Mesa, Arizona in 1993, it was their habit of hiring workers from their hometown that ultimately landed the brothers back in Santo Domingo.

For the past 20 years, the Tenorios have been running their empire from this tiny town, the result of a tangled legal drama involving the US Immigration and Naturalization Service and some unscrupulous California lawyers that ended in the deportation of three out of the four brothers, with the fourth joining his siblings on his own.

Following a sting, the four Tenorio brothers pleaded guilty in federal district court to one count of conspiracy to engage in a “pattern and practice of hiring unauthorized aliens” and one count of “deceiving and defrauding the Internal Revenue Service in the assessment of taxes,” as they had ignored paying taxes on the licensing fees they accepted from individual store operators to use the Filiberto’s name.

As part of a plea agreement, the brothers, along with the managers at 17 Filiberto’s restaurants, agreed to pay all back taxes to the IRS in addition to a 1.9 million dollar fine, which at the time was called the biggest fine for a worksite enforcement case in US history.

On top of this hefty fine, each of the Tenorio brothers were sentenced to 13 months in prison. But first, in an unusual ruling by senior US District Judge Stephen McNamee, they were allowed to go back to Mexico to get their affairs in order.

No one thought they would come back to serve their time. But they did, being the result of them getting involved with a lawyer in Los Angeles named Mansfield Collins, who wasn’t even an immigration lawyer, but he told them, “I’m going to win this case and you’ll be able to stay in the country.” But they never stood a chance of winning. After they got released from jail, they were deported back to Mexico.

By then, the brothers had amassed over a quarter million dollars in attorney fees along with the criminal fines and tax debt. Before they left the US, Collins introduced the brothers to Ivania Piskulich, a tax preparer in Los Angeles, who said she had formed a company named LEASCO Inc. that would pay their attorney fees, criminal fines and IRS debt if the Tenorios agreed to sell their restaurants’ trademark and trade name to her.

In desperation, they agreed to the arrangement. From 1998 to 2002, anyone who wanted to open a Filiberto’s franchise had to pay a licensing fee to the Los Angeles based entity, which also took over management of some key properties.

Collins and Piskulich never paid the brothers anything on those licensing fees. Collins claiming that all of the money they were collecting was going to pay their legal fees. In the meantime, Collins and Piskulich were living the high life off of the royalties.

Unfortunately for the lawyers, neither of them knew how to run a restaurant. One of the locations in Tucson, Arizona in their care went from grossing 200,000 per month to less than 100,000 in a short matter of time. By 2003, LEASCO applied for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in Arizona.

Today, Filiberto’s is one of the more successful fast food chains in Arizona. Even though it’s not accredited by the Better Business Bureau and goes virtually ignored by the Phoenix Business Journal. The chain’s average unit volume runs in the 500,000 to 1 million range.

Despite all of this devastation to the family, the restaurant itself has continued to thrive, presided over by the naturalized sons, daughters and grandchildren of the founders. In 2011, with reported sales for the year totaling 29.5 million. Filiberto’s even earned a coveted spot on Restaurant Business’ annual Future 50 ranking, coming in at 23rd, just behind powerhouse chains Shake Shack, Zoës Kitchen and Eddie V’s.

As well, the chain now boast an impressive fifty-five locations scattered throughout Arizona, New Mexico and California. But their drive and enthusiasm wouldn’t stop there. The company wanted to show their appreciation for the support the community showed them by making many long lasting commitments by becoming a dedicated supporter of St. Jude Children’s Hospital and community youth athletics. A feat that is not always shown by the larger restaurant chains.

More impressive is that you won’t catch Filiberto or any of the other Tenorio brothers rubbing elbows with fellow Arizona business magnates at swank Phoenix luncheons, despite the chain’s success, besting many more high profile local businesses.

Back in Santo Domingo at the annual fair and religious celebrations, the banished burrito brothers, now in their 50s and 60s, are royalty.

Solvang. California’s Denmark

Reading Time: 6 minutes

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Solvang was founded in 1911 on almost 9,000 acres (3,600 hactar) of the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata Mexican land grant, by a group of Danes who traveled west to establish a Danish community far from the midwestern winters. The city is home to a number of bakeries, restaurants, and merchants offering a taste of Denmark in California. The architecture of many of the façades and buildings reflects traditional Danish style. There is a copy of the famous Little Mermaid statue from Copenhagen, as well as one featuring the bust of famed Danish fable writer Hans Christian Andersen. A replica of Copenhagen’s Round Tower or Rundetårn in the scale 1:3 was finished in 1991 and can be seen in the town center.

Between 1850 and 1930, a considerable number of Danes left Denmark, which was suffering from poor economic prospects. According to some estimates, as many as one in ten Danes immigrated during this period, mostly to the United States. The most popular destinations for Danish settlers were Utah, Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota. In many of the new communities, churches and schools were set up in accordance with the ideas of Grundtvig, an influential Danish philosopher, hymn-writer and Lutheran pastor. In particular, the so-called folk schools introduced a new approach to education based on a spirit of freedom, poetry and disciplined creativity.

The Santa Ynez Valley, in which Solvang lies, was originally inhabited by the Chumash, identified by Father Pedro Font, chaplain of the 1776 Anza Expedition, as an ingenious and industrious people.

After the Mexican War of Independence, the Mexican Assembly passed the Secularization Laws which confiscated Mission lands, along with other property, and transferred them to the control of local ranchers, with Solvang being later founded on what became known as the Rancho San Carlos de Jonata. With secularization, Mission Santa Inés began to decline and the Chumash Indian population in the area along with it. For a time, the mission was a seminary but soon began to deteriorate. However, it was repaired by the Donahue family in 1884 and renovated by Fr. Alexander Buckler in 1904.

Solvang sights include the Danish windmills, the statues of Hans Christian Andersen and The Little Mermaid replica, the half-timbered houses, the Danish rural church, the Round Tower as well as Danish music and folk dancing. Several restaurants and pastry shops serve Danish specialties. A replica of a 19th century Danish streetcar, the horse-drawn Hønen, takes visitors on sightseeing tours around downtown Solvang. Partly as a result of the 2004 film Sideways, which was set in the surrounding Santa Ynez Valley, the number of wine related businesses in Solvang has increased, attracting oenophiles to the downtown area.

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Since 1936, Solvang has celebrated Danish folk traditions at its annual “Danish Days” event, usually held during the third weekend in September. Led by a “Danish Maid,” the program consists of æbleskiver eating competitions, music, dancing, and processions through the downtown area with floats, marching groups, marching bands, folk dancers and singers. A Danish Days breakfast on Sunday morning features medisterpølser, a spiced pork sausage recipe of Danish origins, and æbleskiver.

One of Solvang’s attractions is the 700 seat open air Festival Theater, which was built in 1974 following the success of a makeshift performance of Hamlet in 1971 in the town park. Strong support from the local business community, Donovan Marley, and Earl Petersen, allowed the structure to be completed in record time. Recent productions have included West Side Story and Les Misérables. The style of the exterior is reminiscent of both Danish and Elizabethan architecture.

There is so much to see in Solvang, but the biggest attraction in my view would have to be the pastries. A visitor to Solvang cannot skip the amazing assortment of pastries.

Low Cost Airlines

Reading Time: 5 minutes

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With the first commercial air travel being in 1914; later in the late 1950’s becoming more commonplace, airlines always strive to be the most popular – as would be the case with any business – by offering more amenities, comfort and perks/points, etc to retain repeat business.

The world’s first low-cost airline was Pacific Southwest Airlines, who began operating intrastate flights between northern and southern California in 1949. Their strategy of sticking to just California flights avoided the expenses of federal regulation in other states. For 30 years they were practically the flag-carrying airline of California, until deregulation in 1978 when it expanded to other states.

In March of 1967 Air Southwest Co. was established by Herb Kelleher, later adopting its current name, Southwest Airlines. In 1971, it began operating as an intrastate airline wholly within the state of Texas, first flying between Dallas, Houston and San Antonio.

In the years since the late 1940’s and mid 1960’s, other airline startup’s saw not only the potential of being a low cost airline, but were also actively studying the business model of these two pioneers that made operating a low cost airline a profitable business.

Skipping forward to the 1990’s and into the 2000’s, there were a host of low cost airlines, all vying for their place in the air, as well as on the ground. This also led to enormous expansions of existing airports and new airports being constructed all over the country – and world – to meet not only airline demand, but passenger demand as well.

On a recent flight from North Dakota to Arizona on Aallegiant Air, I was rather impressed by the fact that for a low cost airline, it was amazingly clean on the inside. Knowing that the staff only had 15-20 minutes to clean and restock and airplane left me wondering how a small crew on a regional jet could get this accomplished while still being able to maintain a smile as the mob of people made their way through the boarding ramp.

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The secret as it turns out is to get the passengers to do some of the housekeeping while on final approach.

Some of the caveats that I was not happy to see, were the fees. While the ticket it’s self was indeed low cost, there was a push on their website to buy into selective seating, baggage fees and of course, if you wanted anything to drink or eat, you better break out a credit card as it is going to cost you dearly to get the item you want. The other item that I was not impressed with is the push during the flight to sign up for their credit card.

Still, having flown with many different airlines over the years, I was impressed.