Submitted by Jayne Armstrong | Director, U.S. Small Business Administration - Iowa District

Generations of immigrants come to America in pursuit of a better life and the dream of small business ownership. Blanca Plascencia, owner of El Fogon Mexican Grill in West Des Moines, is now living hers after years of hard work and perseverance.

El Fogon is widely recognized for its authentic Mexican cuisine, drawing a packed house of locals and visitors for lunch and dinner from as far away as Arizona, California and New Mexico. Favorites include made-to-order guacamole, chorizo and tortillas. The authenticity is not surprising since the restaurant is named after a fogon, a fire pit that is the central focus of Mexican kitchens.

Plascencia financed her second restaurant venture through a U.S. Small Business Administration guaranteed loan from Bankers Trust. The financing covered the business startup costs, including renovations and equipment purchases. She credits a strong banking relationship with the local community bank for giving her the support she needed to start and grow her business.

The SBA is often seen as one of the best-kept secrets in the federal government. The federal agency empowers entrepreneurs by helping small businesses start, grow, expand and recover from natural disasters. While most entrepreneurs know it for its lending programs, the SBA also offers counseling, training, advocacy, government contracting, disaster assistance and innovation programs and services.

Plascencia encourages other small business owners to step out of their comfort zone and recognize the importance of these business resources and relationships.

"You never know what you are capable of until you do it," she said. "Take the risks and have faith, especially when others believe in you and your dream."

Small business success wasn’t immediate for Plascencia. She originally came to America to finish her college education. She married, started a family and became a citizen along the way. She developed the strong work ethic required of entrepreneurs, especially in the restaurant industry, by working long hours as a server in several restaurants.

A few years later, as a divorced, single mother of two daughters, she experienced the ups and downs of starting over on her own. The tough economic times only made her stronger and gave her the thicker skin she would need as an entrepreneur.

While working at El Charro — now Los Charros in Ankeny — she remarried and had a third daughter. Like many women entrepreneurs, Plascencia wanted to inspire her daughters to follow their dreams. When an opportunity presented itself to purchase the restaurant in 2014, she borrowed from friends and family to make it reality.

While the restaurant was successful, she learned a lot of lessons in her early years as a business owner. First and foremost, she is no longer afraid to ask for help when she needs it. She also learned how to say "no" more often and to be a stronger negotiator. She eventually sold Los Chorros to her manager and business partner before starting El Fogon on Eighth Street in West Des Moines.

Plascencia researched and took advantage of many available small business resources along the way. She participated in the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s Latina Leadership Initiative, where she strengthened her networking, negotiating and leadership skills.

She also received counseling and training assistance through SBA resource partners, including the Des Moines Chapter of SCORE and the Women’s Business Center, now hosted by the Iowa Center for Economic Success, as well as the SBA’s online training center, which features thousands of online classes. She credits the Women’s Business Center for helping her finesse her business plan and SCORE mentors for providing honest advice on what the banks look for in financing small businesses.

Family is the central theme of El Fogon’s success. Plascencia’s husband, Said Pineda, plays a critical role as the primary cook and sounding board for business decisions. Her mother also is there every step of the way helping to take care of her daughters. Manager Marco Romo and his wife, Carrie, also have played a major role in the restaurant’s operations and marketing efforts that they have become part of the family.

It is not surprising that she also built a loyal workforce of 18 employees due to her ability to empathize as a former server and single mother working long hours in the restaurant industry. She also credits her employees for the restaurant’s popularity based on its reputation for outstanding food and customer service.

Plascencia has overcome a lot of obstacles on her way to achieving the American Dream. Her years of hard work and perseverance are finally paying off. 

Jayne Armstrong is the district director of the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Iowa District Office with offices in Des Moines and Cedar Rapids. The SBA resource network includes 15 Small Business Development Centers, eight SCORE chapters, the Women’s Business Center and the Veteran’s Business Outreach Center servicing Iowa’s small business community. Contact her via email.