David Ramirez had a vision that one day he was going to open Las Micheladas Bar & Grill restaurant, a place that he hopes can bring a true dining experience and a nightlife type of scene to downtown Hollister.
His first attempt was on Dec. 27 and that lasted all but three days as they were forced to shut down due to the state’s regional stay-at-home order. But last week Ramirez was able to reopen the doors and allow outdoor dining up to 60 percent capacity after the state’s public health department lifted the order.
“We’re blessed to be open, finally,” he said.
Ramirez, 30, currently has 18 people on the staff and he’s had to juggle around the amount of hours they can work. He said so far there have been some good days and it’s only getting busier.
“It gives us hope again,” he said. “I was paying rent without generating any revenue so right now something is better than nothing for us.”
Mayor Ignacio Velazquez said the restaurant had a strong opening and it’s good to see them driving in business during the hardships of the Covid-19 pandemic. Ramirez shared his plans and marketing strategy with Velazquez, assuring the mayor that he had it covered.
“I tell people all the time, be prepared,” Velazquez said. “You can open your business, you can do it. Know what you’re doing and be ready for it. [Ramirez] was ready before he ever opened.”
Ramirez had initially set up his restaurant for dine-in but the concept shifted as he started focusing on to-go orders once things started to change because of the pandemic.
He said they were blessed to have the parklets built alongside San Benito Street and that the projects were accelerated, which in return has created some value to the business owners.
“It created the evidence that we needed something alternatively, something more aggressive on the change,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez arrived in the United States from Mexico in 1994 and his parents picked strawberries for the company Royal Oaks in Watsonville. They moved to Hollister in 2003 but his dad broke his back planting the new crop for the following season.
Ramirez mentioned that they lost their home, twice, and moved back to Watsonville. Still, he always had Hollister in his heart.
During that time, he was tired of watching his mom wake up at 4am each morning to go to work. He had ideas of collaborating with her, including opening a new clothing store but he realized the profit margins are very low.
“We were going to be on the same boat,” he said. “At the end of the day we’re trying to come out of the financial hole that we were in.”
They decided to opt for a taco truck but San Benito County doesn’t allow food trucks to operate on the street, forcing them to rent a kitchen. They took over Cheap Seats Bar & Grill, located at 427 San Benito St., and started the remodeling process in 2018.
Ramirez said they ultimately decided on specializing in micheladas, a drink made with beer, lime juice, assorted sauces, spices, tomato juice and chile peppers. There are several variations of this beverage throughout Mexico and he brought his own versions to Hollister.
It’s not all about the drinks, however, as they also serve homemade carnitas, birria and tortillas.
“It’s still Mexican oriented from the roots and using the authentic Mexican recipes,” Ramirez said.
The journey has been far from easy, though, as he was on the verge of losing his restaurant twice, scavenging for money so that he could make rent and getting a loan to finish the project. He took a big hit in July 2020 when a fire broke loose in the building next to his. Ramirez claimed that he didn’t receive assistance from his insurance provider because his business wasn’t directly affected.
Prior to that he suffered another major setback in February 2020 when the city’s sewer line leaked into his basement. He said they were supposed to fix the issue and then the Covid-19 pandemic hit, which meant he had to wait a little more than a month before any repairs took place.
He said the city never gave him any financial support to help fix the repairs and he still had to come up with rent from January to May.
“It was a roller coaster, man,” Ramirez said. “It’s probably been the biggest challenge of my life, as well as my family’s.”
The San Benito County Health Department did the final inspection and gave him the green light in December. Ramirez continues using the dining area as storage space since he still can’t use the basement.
The aftermath caused by the broken sewer line and water damage left when firefighters put out the fire has forced him to use upstairs refrigeration. He doesn’t have a walk-in cooler or a dry storage area, leaving no option but for him to go shopping for fresh food everyday, and it has become more expensive for him.
Ramirez admits that the reason he didn’t get any assistance was because he didn’t know how to outsource and ask for help. He said he was running out of options when he finally reached out to City Manager Brett Miller and Velazquez.
“It was very disappointing on their side in the fact that they did not make up for their mistake because the sewer is city property and that city property damaged my property,” he said. “If the sewer line wouldn’t have happened I would’ve been open in January 2020.”
Velazquez said the city’s responsibility is from the main sewer line and the connection into the building falls on the responsibility of the property owner.
Ramirez added that the lack of assistance came from having little to no experience in running a business. He came from a humble migrant family that each year in October would leave for Mexico, and they never had an opportunity to educate themselves on how economics works.
“That’s what I’m trying to do with my generation and my son to make sure that he actually has a chance to have a future for his generation,” he said.
Velazquez said that Ramirez took the market, understood it, accommodated the clients and his success has shown what can be done in any situation.
“It’s not easy but you have to change the game plan a bit,” he said. “You can survive through these hard times and you’ll be highly successful once they’re over.”
Ramirez has a plan set in place to open La Dulceria, an ice cream and candy shop next door to Las Micheladas that is slated to open sometime in the late spring or early summer. He’s already in the process of planning with the city’s planning department and he wants it to be a spot for the young community.
Ramirez also hopes to fully reopen in the summer and he wants to go full throttle on outdoor dining along with to-go orders.
“I’m still living with the aftermath and we’re not giving up,” he said. “We have a saying at home that says ‘We’re stronger than the circumstances and we will always be.’”