NC restaurant owner taps state’s booming business climate

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  • New business creation filings grew 40% in 2021 over 2020, for a total of 178,300 new businesses in the state.
  • North Carolina has a $21.4 billion restaurant industry, accounting for nearly 500,000 jobs, or 11% of N.C. employment.
  • Delays caused by local regulations and the inspection process are a consistent complaint of new small business owners.

With North Carolina recently being ranked the top state in the nation for business by CNBC (and just about everyone else) there are lots of headlines about major corporations relocating here to get the competitive advantage. But there are also thousands of smaller companies that relocate here or open storefronts every year. Last year this included Pollo Campero, the Guatemalan-style chicken restaurant that opened a Raleigh location in October.

Pollo Campero may have started in Guatemala in 1971, but the company now has 85 locations (74 corporate stores and 11 franchises) in the United States, including three in North Carolina. One is located in Raleigh, while the other two are in Charlotte. Since its opening, the Raleigh location has experienced “record sales” according to Mauricio Blanco, the vice president of Andi Valentino Investments, Inc., which owns the Raleigh franchise of Pollo Campero.  

“We did expect sales to be high, but what we got exceeded our expectations,” Blanco, who started with the company’s marketing department in May 2017, told Carolina Journal. “People waited three hours for chicken the first week we were open. Even the Food Lion and surrounding shops have experienced an increase in business since we opened up here.”

Pollo Campero’s director of franchise development, Blas Escarcega, agreed that they had high hopes for the Raleigh location, especially since the brand was already “very accepted in Charlotte.” Escarcega said the Triangle’s great workforce, proximity to Research Triangle Park, tax friendliness, excellent system of universities, and high population of Latin Americans all contributed to the Raleigh opening being the highest for a franchise opening in a decade.

“Raleigh is an area that we knew would be really successful,” said Escarega. “The Southeast in general loves fried chicken. Because of Tik Tok and social media, more people want to taste flavors from all over the world.” 

At a time where the restaurant industry is being heavily impacted by the “Great Resignation,” where it’s hard to get many workers to stick around, Pollo Campera has managed to keep a strong workforce.

“Given that Pollo Campero started in Guatemala, Latin Americans take a lot of pride working for this brand,” says Blanco. “We also do our part; we are willing to work with our employees’ needs and wants: time off, family, life, etc. We take care of them and listen to what they want.”  

Blanco adds that the fact that the owner of Andi Valentino Investments, Inc., a Latin American immigrant himself, has at times worked side-by-side with employees of all ranks boosts morale within the company.

“It is inspiring for normal employees to see the owner working beside them,” said Blanco. 

However, the road to record sales was not without its twists and turns. Andi Valentino Investments, Inc. also has two Charlotte locations, but these two locations did not initially evoke quite the same reaction as the Raleigh location, or have the same experience prior to opening.

When opening in Raleigh, Andi Valentino Investments, Inc. had a different experience with city and county officials than they did in Charlotte. While they acquired the Raleigh location back in 2018, the concept didn’t open until October of last year due to COVID and some bureaucratic holdups.

“Regulation is open to interpretation to the person handling the case,” he said, remembering that when there was a septic issue, “The city said one thing, the county said another, and the utility company said something different.”

That said, Blanco admitted that the delayed opening was a blessing in disguise because it created more hype for Pollo Campero. 

Looking to the future, Pollo Campero and Andi Valentino Investments, Inc. plan to reap more of the benefits that come with operating in a state that is ranked No. 1 by Forbes as Best State for Business and No. 2 by American Legislative Exchange Council for Overall Economic Outlook. Escarcega, who commended North Carolina as a state that is balanced and welcoming, says that there is “a lot of white space” — meaning unclaimed territory — for opening more locations. According to Escarcega, there are plans to open 15-20 more Pollo Camperos in the next five to 10 years if the economic trends in North Carolina remain positive. 

Fortunately for Escarcega, Blanco, and Pollo Campero, the business-friendly legislature has no intention of undoing any of the groundwork they laid over the last 10 years, which lead to North Carolina’s current economic trajectory.