The second featured speaker at the Gila Economic Development Alliance monthly Roundtable meeting held Friday, Nov. 22, was Alex Ocheltree, owner of Billy's Wild, Wild West BBQ & Steakhouse.
"Later I'll tell you about something I've been working on," Ocheltree said. "My first job was washing dishes and making salads for 50 cents an hour when I was 14 years old.
"People ask me if this is my dream to have a restaurant," he continued. "No, my dream was the ATV and motorcycle shop. It came to a crash with the recession. The toy business had a hard time. I was a casualty. I went from 20 sales a month to two."
He said he had been working on an idea to add a small restaurant to the shop. "I was losing one business and building another one at the same time."
"It's really expensive to lose a business," Ocheltree said. "The inventory is now junk you have to dispose of. All of a sudden I was in the restaurant business without any experience since I was washing dishes at 14. Wow, I wish I knew then what I know now."
He explained that 30 percent of costs is food cost, 30 percent is labor cost, and 30 percent is overhead, with, if you're lucky, 10 percent for yourself.
"I made Sysco and Shamrock happy," Ocheltree said. "My food costs were as high as 46 percent. How can anybody have a restaurant in town, you may ask. That's why we have a lot of Mexican food restaurants, with their costs mostly for tortillas and beans. Fast food places have fixed costs on their food.
"Trying to do quality is really difficult," Ocheltree said. "Then, I discovered the Restaurant Depot in Tucson. I drive there every two weeks and bring back a truckful of food. I save enough on four bags of potatoes to pay for the fuel. Now everything has a bargaining position.
"Labor? Oh, my, my, my," Ocheltree exclaimed. "I have had 200 people in three years. I advertise and I have people walk in. For a lot of them, it's their first job. Some are in recovery for whatever. Five or six folks have done time."
He said college kids don't care. They say that it's spring break, so they're going to Cabo.
"My best employees are single moms in the 20- to 22-year-old range," Ocheltree said. "Older ones have baggage. Sometimes I call it Billy's Home for Unwed Mothers."
He said that now that he has a good training program, he tests potential employees before he hires them. "Half of them don't show up for the test. I give them a list of what I expect. They have trouble getting through the three pages. Most haven't graduated from high school. This is the dregs of the work force. It's hard work, and I lose many after a few days. It's hot, crazy and chaotic. A few I've had since I opened."
"It's still fun and I like it, but I would rather have my motorcycle shop," Ocheltree said. "I was disappointed the tax issue didn't pass. There is a group here who is against everything. They want everything to fail.
"We have to support downtown Silver City," he continued. "Tourism is not huge, but it is something. Anything that happens, even if I'm across town, it will affect me. Would Alex consider Isaac's as Billy's downtown? It has high overhead and no parking. On a good night, we'll have 75 to 80 cars in the parking lot. Not downtown."
He suggested a Google search for a satellite image of Silver City. "There is a lot of parking not being used. There are bits of land that if paved and lit could bring in a lot of people."
"Skyscrapers are a long time away for Silver City," Ocheltree said, "but entertainment would work. Put in a tavern license law. The cost for a liquor license runs from $350,000 to $1 million. We cannot upset the value of existing liquor licenses. What I'm proposing is a tavern license for wine, beer and spirits manufactured in New Mexico, with a small $1,300 a year fee. For local manufacturers the big problem is distribution or it costs $20 a bottle. A tavern license creates a closed loop, creating 200 tasting rooms all over the state. It creates a low-cost investment opportunity. This is New Mexico for New Mexico by New Mexico—a showcase for New Mexico."
Kim Clark, representing the Realtors Association, pointed out the tavern license could be used in art galleries. "Have you run it by (Sen.) Howie (Morales)?"
"You're the first people to see it," Ocheltree said. "This is independent of any craft distillery license. It would have to go through the local governments, but it would make it easier for current distilleries and wineries for distribution."
"It is a total answer that doesn't devalue current liquor licenses," Arlene Schadel of the Gila EDA said.
Chelsea Hotchkiss, Insurance First owner, said what is important to get anything done is to shorten any paperwork. "If what you have is three pages long, for here, it needs to be three sentences. We have to educate people."
Clark said it was a lesson learned from the tax issue to educate people about it before the election. "The misinformation had already gotten out."
Hotchkiss concurred that the work force was a "huge problem."
Evangeline Zamora, representing MainStreet, said the organization would be holding a fundraiser reception, from 5:30-7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, to showcase the Silco renovation plan, as well as showing a documentary of the building of the Silco marquee.
Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, said a new opportunity had arisen, called the Promise Zone, which would provide help to improve affordable housing, healthcare, public safety and economic development. "It would be added onto the Stronger Economies Together programs. There is also a revolving loan fund through SET, being overseen by the Deming Housing Authority. It can loan up to $25,000 for a startup or for retention in or expansion of an existing business. We had 10 apply and two qualified. We have room for three or four more."
Bruce Ashburn of PNM outreach said banks would not loan for only a few thousand dollars.
"We're trying not to get too many small ones," Gutierrez said. "We prefer requests for $10.000 to $25,000." He also announced that applications from non-profits were due Dec. 1 to the Freeport McMoRan Community Investment Fund.
Clark asked Trent Petty of the Silver School Board about bandwidth at Cliff School and whether it had been increased.
"By five times," Petty replied.
Ashburn asked if it was up to minimum standard, to which Petty replied that it was to minimum standard.
Ashburn, as a member of the Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce Board, said the chamber would begin doing radio ads, called the Chamber Minute. "We are continuing to send out information packets, two to four a month, and we are gaining two to four new members a month."
Sammy Silva, business owner, said everything was about education. "I was working at the university, but we can't do anything without money."
Clark, wearing her Prospectors' hat, said the previous day had been the deadline for applications to the Legislative Forum, which will be held from 8 a.m. all day Monday, Dec. 9, at the Besse-Forward Global Resource Center on the WNMU campus. "Then we will set priorities for the legislative session. Our Prospectors' Day in Santa Fe is Jan. 29."
As for real estate, she said numbers were down. "In May, the market fell apart, and it's going to be a down year," Clark said. "Banking regulations are killing deals. The flood insurance changes will also impact us."
Gutierrez said there were a lot of ways to get out of buying flood insurance or at least cutting costs. "There are a lot of errors in the FEMA maps."
Hotchkiss recommended getting catastrophic insurance, which is cheaper but includes flooding, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
Schadel said the Silver City Arts and Culture District, along with others, hosted the New Mexico Film Office. "They were blown away with Silver City," she reported. "There has been a lot of film activity in Grant County. I've been involved in three films. For at least one, they plan to come back for a sequel. There's a lot of potential here, but it is an inconvenience for those coming here. The hotel was awful, until they could move to a better one. The hotel didn't seem to care."
Ashburn said PNM has an application with the Public Regulation Commission to change the line extension rule. "We are trying to get all areas on the same procedures. We are looking at ways to promote economic development."
L.J. Lundy, Realtor, said she listened to what Ocheltree had to say and thought a tavern license was a great idea. "I show people downtown, and it's depressing."
Zamora, as LifeQuest director, said the agency has a large parking lot that could be used at night.
No meeting will be held in December, with the next meeting set for Jan. 17, 2014 at 8:30 a.m., venue to be determined.