Sandra Sherer is an artist by trade — but she’s not afraid to roll up her sleeves and shovel hot asphalt or do whatever else it takes to keep a business successful.
In between painting pastel murals, she’s helped husband Paul Sherer, since their marriage during 1991, with several businesses, including the largest privatized vehicle registration agency in Texas.
But when they moved to Colorado Springs, after she’d lived most of her life in El Paso, Texas, she missed the city’s unique style of Mexican food.
So she gathered recipes from her parents and grand parents, experimented in the kitchen and asked a building owner to “give us a chance.”
She launched Café El Paso, at 3840 N. Nevada Ave. on Sept. 12, 2001, as majority owner — with no capital investment or loans.
“It was a horrible time to go into business,” said co-owner Paul. “Even under normal conditions, that time of year everything fluctuates with the holidays.”
And it was a hardship to pay for annual business licenses in September, and then again in January 2002.
The restaurant opened with eight employees and Sandra’s artwork adorning the walls. She cooked in the kitchen, and Paul worked the front of the house.
“We had no money for marketing — just enough to hire cooks and servers,” Paul said.
So they opted for word-of-mouth during those early months.
They invited “a bunch of people” to have a “made-from-scratch, no cans or boxes” dinner, and asked them to tell other people if they liked it. Eventually, business increased and they gained a loyal clientele.
The couple keeps the restaurant “cozy” because they like interacting with their employees and customers — but also because they can stay in business without debt.
They credit “cash money” for purchases and improvements as the reason they’ve weathered economic downturns.
“It takes us longer to do things (debt free),” Sandra said, “but if you just wait a bit, it all works out and finds its own time.”
When the economy is not doing well, they can still survive. “If I had listened to people who told us to expand,” Sandra said, “we wouldn’t be here right now.”
Their business has defied other odds.
Their location on North Nevada is not ideal, but, with the development of University Village Colorado, “it looks like commercialism is finally coming to us,” Paul said.
The couple has followed Paul’s business guidelines, gleaned from dozens of years as an entrepreneur: “Stay liquid, create the best product possible and be smart about marketing.”
But Sandra is quick to add that determination is also a key business ingredient.
“The first three months were really hard. Many times I thought we’d have to close,” Sandra said. “But you have to persevere.”
And, true to form, she’s pursuing yet another endeavor.
Her latest challenge is finding a vendor for her “Dos Pistolas” green chili salsa, adapted from her father’s recipe. Her mother suggested the name, and Sandra designed and drew the logo — a man wearing a sombrero and brandishing, of course, two pistols.
Although Café El Paso has survived two recessions and business is steady, establishing and maintaining a business has been a challenge.
Numerous times, Sandra has overcome the barriers of discrimination to pursue her dream. She’s proud of her Spanish and Mexican heritage, but Sandra said, “I’m American — that’s how I was brought up.”
“But they don’t want to take you seriously, so it’s frustrating for me — because I know my business,” she said. “(Some people) think, ‘you’re a woman, what would you know?’ But I get a lot of determination from my mother. She’s always been very strong. She told me, ‘never give up.’ And I never do.”
And now she has advice for other minority women entrepreneurs.
“Ignore the little boxes they try to put us in,” Sandra said. “Always go for your dream — if you keep on going, it will always come to fruition.”