The last 18 months were like nothing we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. COVID was tragic for many and challenging for all. However, for some intrepid entrepreneurs, 2020 was the year they decided to take a chance despite the unknowns. Several new businesses opened their doors to welcome customers for the first time during the global pandemic and were highly successful. Here are just a few of the local business owners who took a chance and didn’t let the pandemic stand in their way.
Truth or Consequences
Located where the popular Latitude 33 used to be is now the new, globally inspired restaurant La Baracca. At the beginning of the pandemic, opening a restaurant of his own hadn’t crossed Mike Demeo’s mind. However, after a temporary closure due to COVID restrictions caused him to leave his position as chef at Sierra Grande Lodge & Spa’s restaurant, Mike was on the lookout for another opportunity.
After venturing to Colorado to look for work, Mike made his way back to Truth or Consequences, and in September the owner of Latitude 33 offered to sell him all his kitchen equipment and suggested Mike take over the Latitude 33 space. “It was very sad to see him close this location, but it gave me the opportunity to continue doing something . . . or at least try,” says Mike.
After preparations were complete, Mike opened La Baracca’s doors to the public on New Year’s Day 2021. “I felt confident I could give it a good shot because I was willing to adapt and I have experience in a lot of different and difficult situations,” says Mike. “I figured if I could just pay the bills, put a little bit aside, and weather the storm here until the pandemic starts to dissipate, then I can make it a bigger operation eventually and do more things.”
As he couldn’t do much in the way of a grand opening, Mike felt as though he were running an underground operation. He often heard people refer to him as “the man behind the curtain” or “the man behind the locked front door” when they came to try his food. Mike is grateful to the T or C business community for welcoming him. “Many of the hotels were putting my menu in the rooms. I feel I have started making some really good friends with other business owners in town and they have given me a tremendous amount of support,” says Mike. “My customers have been the best ever. When I first got into the building, someone anonymously paid my rent for three months.”
Mike admits that he wishes he would have opened La Baracca sooner. “Even though I’m running the restaurant by myself, I have somehow found the time to actually start getting involved with the community, getting to know people, and getting involved with things that I’ve told myself I wanted to do but had to put on the back burner. I have allowed work to just consume me before and that’s not happening here. I honestly do feel like I’m in a better place,” says Mike.
One of the things that Mike got involved with is The Venus Project (TVP), an organization that proposes a plan of action for social change. He is passionate about creating a better and more sustainable world for all people. He will be hosting screenings of documentaries and bringing guest speakers for presentations at La Baracca. “I’m going through orientation right now to become a regional coordinator for TVP. The restaurant will also be a place for a team to collaborate with TVP support and get information on the organization and its proposals,” says Mike.
La Baracca is best described as presenting “premium casual and globally inspired cuisine.” The regular menu consists of mostly Italian and American food along with weekly themed specials. Wednesday nights are usually a barbecue special. Thursdays are pizza nights. On Fridays, you can snag some delicious steaks. Saturdays feature seafood specials, and on Sundays, Mike rolls sushi.
Although at press time the restaurant is primarily take-out, catering for parties and special events is available, and guests are welcome to eat at two outside tables. Mike operates La Baracca on his own, so sending in your take-out order via text is his preferred method. Customers can look forward to more seating and special holiday menus soon. La Baracca is located at 304 S. Pershing St., and for updated hours of operation and information on weekly specials, visit La Baracca on Facebook. Text your orders to 575-300-7018.
There is a new player in the real estate game and its name is Select Realty. Owners Raul Tellez and Guadalupe Fernandez wanted to change the way real estate was “done” and create a company that focuses on setting its agents up for success.
Thoughts of starting Select Realty began in December 2019. After working as associate brokers at the same real estate company for many years, Raul and Guadalupe decided it was time for them to act on their ideas. Select Realty was born in June 2020, right as the pandemic was taking hold.
“It was pretty risky starting the brokerage during a pandemic,” says Raul. “We didn’t know what the market was going to do. So, for two weeks we kind of held our breaths and nobody was calling, nobody wanted to see any houses, and then all of the sudden we just started picking up and we thought, ‘All right, we are going to be okay.’ We took that risk, and we love that we did. We are just running with it.”
Now Select Realty is growing fast, employing a team 30 agents strong in less than a year. They moved into their 275 N. Main St. building in October 2020. Their first big challenge was getting their agents in front of buyers and sellers, but they quickly adapted and did everything virtually.
“We got help from Precision Mortgage, Joe Baca, who allowed us to use his facilities while we were starting up,” continued Raul. “So, from June to October we were there at Joe’s facility. It’s not a large location, so he really sacrificed a lot for us, and we are very grateful. We also took advantage of the PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] loan and the Small Business Association guided us on any availability of monies to be had.”
As an agent-focused business, Raul and Guadalupe have made sure to provide their agents with the best tools for their professional development. “We are focusing more on agent success and agent marketing and not so much on the brokerage markets. With agent success will come brokerage success,” says Raul. “We don’t just show them the paperwork that needs to be filled out and send them on their way. We are teaching them how to structure their business for success.”
Select Realty agents are provided with a unique customer relationship management tool that helps the agents automate immediate communication with clients who send them inquiries. They also offer their agents and home sellers a concierge service to create flyers, mailers, and other types of marketing free of charge. Using the concierge service, their clients can schedule cleaning services, moving services, Wi-Fi and electricity hookup, and anything else they might need to sell their home.
Raul says if you can start a business during a pandemic, you can pretty much do anything. Select Reality is planning to expand operations into more of New Mexico and El Paso. You can stay up to date with them at selectlascruces.com.
Lucky Dog Billiards
Las Cruces’ only billiards and darts lounge, Lucky Dog Billiards, officially opened its doors to the public September 23, 2020. Like many businesses in the process of opening pre-pandemic, the journey to their opening day and even after has not been a walk in the park.
Owner Sara Armijo started the funding and licensing process for Lucky Dog Billiards in October 2019, and by the end of December 2019 all contracts, funding commitments, construction agreements, and approvals were done. Construction started off strong in 2020 and an opening date was set for mid-March. When March rolled around, everything came to a screeching halt. Lucky Dog wasn’t finished being built and the restaurant and entertainment industry shut down — but this did not keep Sara from pushing forward.
Lucky Dog Billiards was open for only 25 days from their September opening to November 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions, and Lucky Dog had to temporarily close. Lucky Dog’s doors remained locked until February 2021 when Doña Ana County turned “yellow,” and it has been open on a regular basis ever since. Sara gives credit to many people and organizations for the success of Lucky Dog.
“Without the guidance, communication, and support from SBDC, NMSU’s Arrowhead Business Center, WESST, SCORE, the economic development departments, as well as help from friends and family, Marci Dickerson, Pioneer Bank, and Debbi Moore with the Las Cruces Chamber of Commerce, Lucky Dog Billiards would not be here today,” says Sara.
Lucky Dog Billiards became a reality because Sara saw the desire in the community for a new pool hall. “I saw and heard a lot of fellow community members say, ‘We really need something like this,’ and I put my best effort forward to make it happen for Las Cruces,” says Sara. And after a long battle, she sure did. Lucky Dog Billiards is located at 245 E. Lohman Ave. and offers a laid-back environment with pool tables, dart lanes, and a variety of food and drink (try their loaded mushroom and pretzel piles!). For updated hours and more information, visit luckydogbilliards.com.
Check out these other new, expanded, or re-imagined businesses:
Blue Moon Bar
13060 N. Valley Dr., Las Cruces
Downtown Blues Coffee
130 S. Main St., Las Cruces
139 N. Main St., Las Cruces
Elephant Ranch Liquor Store
3995 W. Picacho Ave., Las Cruces
2750 Mall Dr. Suite 240, Las Cruces
The Kure food truck
1204 E Lohman Ave., Las Cruces
Written by Olivia Belcher
Originally published in Neighbors magazine
Posted by LasCruces.com