There are no signs that Richard and Brenda Lucio are slowing down. With 17 years as restaurant owners and four successful restaurants, they’re in the final stages of opening a fifth in Denver in October.
“Like most people in this work, we started out and grew up in this industry,” Richard said. Together, they spent years working in Armadillo restaurants. By the time they left in 1988, they’d each been regional managers who both knew how to manage multiple locations.
“Brenda knew HR, and I was cost control, so our different skill sets were advantageous when we started our own business,” Richard said.
Like most startups, The Lucios’ first restaurant — Coyote’s Southwest Grill in Greeley — struggled for a few years before gaining traction. When the opportunity popped up a few years later, they opened a second restaurant — Palomino Mexican Restaurant in Evans.
“The big secret for being successful is to surround yourself with special people,” Richard said. Managing multiple locations required them to pass the torch to on-site staff for some of the personal touches that patrons seek.
“We’re constantly trying to develop our management skills and teach them what we know,” he added.
Restaurant number three — another Palomino, this time in Loveland — was followed by Blue Agave Grill in downtown Fort Collins. Blue Agave will be opening its second location in Lower Downtown Denver in the fall.
Over the years, the Lucio’s have made it through a range of challenges. One of the more-difficult times came during the 2007 and 2008 recession.
“It was really a turning point for us, in a positive way, though,” Richard said. “We realized the if people wanted to still dine out and could do that only once a week rather than three times, we wanted to be the restaurant they chose.”
To increase that likelihood, the Lucio’s decided to focus on making even better food, rather than skimping on any ingredients.
We invested in a new training program and added new tools to improve our service people,” Brenda said. “People weren’t buying cars or homes, but they could go to dinner and a movie, so eating out became part of what they could do.”
In looking back over the years, Brenda believes that creating their identity and brand and sticking to it has been one of their success points.
When they opened the first Coyote’s, the community tried to convince them to serve traditional Mexican food, rather than Southwestern.
“They knew our background from a Mexican chain and that we grew up in Greeley,” Richard said, referring to the area as a meat and potatoes town where meat and potatoes meant burritos and tacos.
It took time, but the community did finally embrace the different menu.
And, today, the Lucios keep customers coming back, in part, because they change those menus regularly.
“If you have a product that’s in demand but not doing what you want, reinvest, recreate and reinvent to make it work,” Richard said.