By José Villa, Senior Editor
Hawaii Hispanic News
HONOLULU, Hawaii — Well-known Hispanic community leader Jesús Puerto owns Soul De Cuba (SDC) Honolulu as well as the Soul De Cuba New Haven in Connecticut. The Honolulu restaurant opened in July 2006 and Puerto has been an integral – and valued – member of the downtown/Chinatown area ever since.
But the “Soul De Cuba Empire” – as I call it – is so much more than most people realize. So I caught with Puerto
on one of his slower, when things were only “chaotic,” days to get an update on what’s going on with the “Empire.”
Puerto said: “Well, both restaurants continue to show growth in revenue, in spite of the down economy. They’ve each experienced a 5%-7% increase in revenues over last year and, with the recent expansion in Honolulu, business is up over 35% from last year for this same period. In addition to that, we’ve the Soul De Cuba Mojo Cabana (kiosk) on the Navy side of Joint Base Pearl Harbor – Hickam.
“We’ve been fully up and operational since September 1st. That’s introduced our brand to the military community. And, thankfully, management and staff at all three locations are good.”
He continued: “The specialty foods, our popular SDC sauces, are doing extremely well. They are now carried in over 500
stores on the mainland, including about 75 Whole Foods stores in different regions of the country primarily the northeast and Pacific northwest. In Texas, we’re in HEB. They have about 300 stores and we’re in 80 of their top-grossing stores.
In the Southeast, we’re in Winn-Dixie stores. We’re planning on adding dry herbs, rubs and condiments to our product line.” Puerto went on: “The biggest news in our product company is that we’ll soon be selling items to the Cuban government. The first shipment went out from Jacksonville, Florida a couple of months ago. That was a shipment of our mojo sauce.”
I had to ask: “They don’t make Cuban mojo in Cuba?” Puerto said: “’I haven’t seen any evidence of any major commercial production of mojo sauce in Cuba. What I have seen is that mojo is still a homemade sauce. All their mojo is imported and we have very few competitors in that market of 11 million consumers. We anticipate a slow start, maybe only 400 cases in 2012. The sauces are manufactured in Connecticut.”
Who will the end users be? Will it be restaurants and hotels? Puerto responded: “We’re initially targeting the rapidly
growing grocery retail market, then plan to pursue opportunities with hotels, restaurants, institutions (e.g. hospitals,
prisons, universities, etc.).”
Wouldn’t that be something? A photo of Fidel and Raul Castro at dinner and Fidel’s asking Raul to pass the Soul De Cuba mojo!
Puerto added: “The third prong of our current business model is our franchises. I’ve hired a mainland company called Franchise Marketing Systems. Chris Conner is the president. I’ve brought him on as our franchise consultant/general manager. He’ll ramp up the sales and beef up the infrastructure. Thanks to that initiative, we are now generating 40 – 50 leads per month compared to less than 40 leads in all of 2011.”
With the franchises, does he plan to focus on a particular part of the globe – U.S. for example? Puerto said: “Currently we’re looking at a retired naval officer in the Los Angeles area as our first franchisee. He’s a Cuban- American, so he’s well familiar with the food and processes. There’s also growing interest from groups in Japan, the Philippines and the Middle East, but we haven’t solidified anything yet.”
With the franchises, will SDC provide start-up assistance, training and support?
Puerto responded: “Yes. We have a full support package modeled after the most successful franchises in the world.”
So, from this point on, will future SDC restaurants be franchises or could there be some more “corporate” ones, like the McDonald’s Restaurants business model?
Puerto said: “It will be a corporate/franchise split. I still feel a draw to some locations I think it would require my personal involvement, supervision, etc.
Would it be easier to open another corporate store or a franchise? Puerto said: “I think – thanks to our comprehensive
support package and on-site training team – it would be easier to open a franchise. I can help guide five to ten
franchise stores, where as I would have to focus on one corporate store.”
He concluded: “Just in general terms, and based primarily on access to capital, we could add another corporate store every five years. Conversely, adding franchise stores would be easier because the franchises would share resources in
growing the brand. Right now we’re on an exciting upward path and our thankful to have so many good opportunities.”
Having watched the SDC Empire grow has also been exciting. I’ll report again soon on the progress our local
Latino enterprise has made.