Jorge Fierro feels love from the community he has graciously served for two decades as his longtime Westside business, Rico Brand Mexican Foods, faces eviction by a new landlord developer.
Salt Lake City loves Jorge Fierro. The friend of CATALYST and legendary local entrepreneur started Rico Brand Mexican Foods (rico means rich, delicious) in Salt Lake City over 20 years ago. As of this writing, Rico Brands is endangered by the timetable of a developer who has bought the warehouse space at 545 S. 700 West which Jorge has leased since 2004. Locals, however, are rallying around in massive support.
Woodbine Industries initially had given him until the end of this year to find a new space, he says, but in early July the company changed the deadline to end-August. Developer Maximilian Coreth, who is involved in other Westside projects as well as an all-electric housing development on 2100 South, appears to be the primary member of the new (2019) corporation. The building is managed by L.B. Hunt Management Group.
A Change.org petition posted by Jorge’s family in late July had, in just a few days, already gathered almost 4,000 signatures and hundreds of comments. As signer Safia Keller, a University of Utah development director (speaking for herself) points out, “…Rico moved [to the West side’s warehouse district, now the Granary District] when no one else would operate a business there, and now he is being forced to move because it is the new ‘hot spot’ for development.” The petition asks for an additional 60 days for Jorge to relocate his business.
Calling to see how he was faring, we found him in the middle of the hectic search for Rico’s new home.
“I looked at a space today on Folsom, and it seems kind of small but I can move in right away if I can buy it. I met with my banker and things are moving along, but this is all too [fast] for comfort. I was also just on a phone call with some local businesspeople who have property and would like to partner with me.”
Possibilities are emerging from the press coverage and petition. Jorge says he needs a lease extension of two months—a compromise on the initial deadline of year’s end—in order to leave without having to shut down the business.
The pandemic has increased Rico’s business by some 25%-30%, probably because more people are staying home to eat, but has also put extra constraints on the production facility. Jorge’s concern is that if he does not find a suitable alternative and complete the move within this month, he’ll have to lay off his 32 employees—just at a time when nobody can afford to lose their job.
However, there is a silver lining to these storm clouds.
“I have mixed emotions,” Jorge says. “On one side, I would like to have a few glasses of scotch! But on the other side I cannot tell you how blessed I am to know that this community really loves our company and what we do. So many people have reached out—Frank Granato [Granato’s Deli and Importing], Maxine Turner [Cuisine Unlimited], Scott Evans [Finca]—so many people; and all the people who have signed the petition.”
He is additionally concerned about how Salt Lake City’s raging development trend is impacting the small business community as a whole. Though new businesses and restaurants continue to open, affordable space is harder and harder to find.
“I think it’s wrong what [developers] are doing, but I don’t blame them; I’m not a crybaby. It’s not about me, because I will find a way, one way or another. But will others? We don’t want to see small business discouraged this way. I think it’s extremely important to emphasize that if the City and County and State don’t have [regulations] on the kind of incentive packages that they give to investors, small businesses will be in danger of sinking.
“The City has reached out to me finally, the new economic development director has called. But if I hadn’t done anything and ABC4 News had not written the article that first publicized my situation, would I have faded away and that’s the end of Rico Brand?”
Not likely; Jorge is not the type to go away quietly. He’s not one to be pushed around.
And there is the love. “It’s just amazing, the people in the community who are reaching out, trying to see how they can help.”
If anything, Jorge is finding out that he is well-loved and respected within his community, and for that, he feels blessed.
Alice Toler is a regular contributor to CATALYST. Read more about Jorge Fierro in her most recent article, “Passion and Restraint: The Rise of Spicy Food in Utah” (June 2020).