West Business Development Center is host to the Mendocino Small Business Development Center. We are talking with some of our SBDC clients to see what they’ve been up to and how their businesses are faring more than a year since the start of the pandemic. We recently caught up with a busy couple who have a popular restaurant in Ukiah.
WC: Hi there. Tell our readers who you are and the name of your business.
AP: My name’s Ashleigh Plazola and this is Fernando Plazola, my husband, and we are the owners of Cultivo restaurant in Ukiah California.
WC: Fernando, what inspired you to become a chef?
FP: My mom was a great cook and we had a large family so she was always busy cooking in the kitchen. My mom also did an awesome job teaching every one of us how to cook our own meals. I learned how to cook and started to enjoy it really well and when the time came I went to the culinary school in San Francisco and that’s how I got started.
WC: What’s the story on Cultivo, when did it open and what inspired you to start the business?
AP: Cultivo has quite the backstory. I grew up in Mendocino County. We moved to Marin and Sonoma counties but always wanted to return here. We finally settled in Ukiah, where I work in the ICU in the hospital, which I love, but Fernando was still travelling for executive chef positions and we decided we didn’t want to be apart any more. In order to make that happen, we needed to open our own restaurant. We found a beautiful little restaurant that was coming up for sale and decided to jump on the opportunity. With the help of the city (of Ukiah) and West Center, we started putting down our ideas for the business and purchased what was then called Saucy in 2017. After about six months, we transitioned to Cultivo. And now four years later, we’re building our clientele and have become a dining staple in Ukiah.
WC: What do you think customers like most about coming to Cultivo?
AP: I think what’s really important is consistency. We’ve actually had some of the same staff members since opening, and some of them were with the previous restaurant. So people can come in and see the same faces they saw in 2018 and 2019, when things were still normal.
FP: One of the things I do as the chef is to make sure every dish comes out the same way every time so customers get a consistent dining experience.
WC: You have plans to open a new restaurant on Airport Park Blvd. How did you decide it was time to expand?
FP: We got to the stage where Cultivo was doing well and we were given an opportunity to start working on Hangar 39 so why not! Cultivo is a small restaurant with a small kitchen so opening a new, big restaurant is really exciting because I think I can provide a lot more for our community. It’s going to be a challenge but I love a challenge!
WC: What are you both hoping the new restaurant will offer your customers?
AP: One of the most important things about small towns is having a place to gather. Hangar 39 is going to be a place where you can gather with your friends, a comfortable place where you can sit and have a cocktail, eat a fantastic meal, or even just come and watch a sports event. I don’t feel we have a lot of options for that here in our town right now and I think people are striving to have that kind of atmosphere again.
FP: Our plans are to offer modern California cuisine, of course, but we’ll add a little seafood bar on the side. I grew up eating seafood and I really love it so that’s why I want to incorporate that element into the restaurant. I’m also going to create a comfort food bar menu that will pair well with beer or cocktails or whatever the customer wants.
WC: How was the Mendocino SBDC helpful to you?
AP: In 2017 we reached out to West Center on the recommendation of the previous owner (of Saucy). I think it was a great recommendation. They have a lot of tools and classes you can take in order to better your idea of business, make wiser decisions, figure out cash flow, how to make sure you don’t empty the barrel before the barrel’s full, preparing you for the ups and downs and the challenges that you are going to hit, no matter what, as a restaurant. I think that helped better prepare us even for this pandemic. The pandemic wiped clean a lot of businesses that may not have had a disaster plan. We’ve always prided ourselves on trying to make sure that we maintain a comfort zone. The Mendocino SBDC advisors helped us to focus. When we were trying to decide the best plan of action, our advisor helped us find the right direction and the right resources. They gave us tools to educate ourselves to make wiser decisions.
WC: What would you tell someone who’s planning to open a new business.
AP: I would tell them to reach out to the right resources. There are consultants out there who will charge you an arm and a leg and our advisors here at the Mendocino SBDC make time for you, their services are free of charge, you’ll be able to get all your questions answered and if they aren’t able to answer something, they know who to guide you towards so you can make the best decisions for your business.
WC: Talk about how this new business will benefit the community.
FP: We’re going to be providing a lot of jobs, especially for people who want to get into the cooking industry. AP: We will have tons of employment opportunities from the kitchen to housekeeping, management, HR, front of the house, back of the house, bar managers. WAnd the neat thing is that there will be opportunities for people to evolve their careers with us. For example, students at Mendocino College that want to know how business runs could apply for something that’s geared toward their business career.
WP: Fernando, did you always dream of owning your own restaurant?
FP: When I was at culinary school, everyone had a dream of owning their own place. This is my dream come true and I’ve very thankful for that. And so thankful for my wife because she made it possible for me to have my dream of my own restaurant… and now a second one. We’ve worked so hard for this.
WC: What are your dreams for Hangar 39?
AP: We hope to open our doors in June (2021). With the pandemic we will have to see if the tier system permits full capacity opening and if not, we’ll prepare for those types of ebbs and flows. We want to be busy and have the place as full as possible. We want to have people outdoors enjoying the patio, the bar full during sports events, we’d love for the hotels in town to recommend our restaurants to their guests. In addition, we’d like to broaden our catering services now we’ll have a large kitchen with more staff. We want this to be a place where businesses can host dinners or hold business meetings.
WC: Fernando, what’s your favorite dish to eat?
FP: Well, when I get home from work after a long day of cooking, I like to sit on the patio with a beer and have a hot dog!
We left Ashleigh and Fernando as they were working through the dozens of tasks associated with opening a new restaurant. Be sure to stop by when they open the doors at Hangar 39!
And that’s a wrap!