El Toro Owner Recognized as Parkland Foundation’s Entrepreneur of the Year | entrepreneur

CHAMPAIGN — As Illinois restaurants were forced to close for in-person dining in the early months of the pandemic, local restaurateur Victor Fuentes started a construction company.

“Pure necessity,” he recalls.

The operator of the two family-owned restaurants El Toro and his new construction company DECA Holdings, Fuentes, is about to receive an award that has been suspended since June 2020.

On Wednesday, the Parkland College Foundation plans to honor Fuentes with the V. Dale Cozad award for Entrepreneur of the Year.

Due to pandemic cancellations, the foundation has waited two years to present Fuentes with this award, according to Executive Director Tracy Wahlfeldt.

She describes Fuentes as a humble man who embodies many of the characteristics of entrepreneurship, including risk-taking, drive and perseverance.

“His story is really remarkable,” she said.

Fuentes and his family own El Toro locations in Champaign, St. Joseph, Arcola, Rantoul, Danville, Zionsville, Indiana, Walton, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio and Taco Loco in Urbana.

Fuentes, President of El Toro, is also the owner of The Wheelhouse in St. Joseph, The Pink Pig in Ogden and Willow Creek Farm wedding and events venue in Urbana.

The restaurants employ about 300 full-time and part-time workers in total, and DECA Holdings employs about 35, Fuentes said.

His wife, Jennifer, manages the El Toro locations at 1005 S. Neil St. C and 3401 Field South Drive, C, and handles payroll and ordering, he said.

Fuentes’ construction business, named after the first letters of her four daughters’ first names (Dominick, Emily, Christen and Angela), arose out of necessity, partly because his company owns real estate in the community and partly because of COVID-19 when he got into the restaurant industry , like others, he did not know what was going to happen, Fuentes recalled.

“I had to find a new way to generate income,” he said.

He formed DECA Holdings to do maintenance for other owners and got his roofing license, he said.

DECA is now a full construction company that does roofing, home renovations and minor work, he said.

Fuentes, 42, was born in La Piedad, Michoacan state, Mexico, to a family of six children. His father, who became a migrant worker in the United States, moved the family to Chicago in 1991 and worked in a factory there.

Fuentes recalls getting into the restaurant business for the same reason he started a construction business.

“It was just pure necessity,” he said.

He started washing dishes in a Greek restaurant at the age of 11 and worked his way up to become a chef, later moving to Champaign. An uncle and cousin had an idea for a restaurant and asked him to work with them, he said.

“I was halfway decent at it, and here we are,” Fuentes said.

The first El Toro opened in 1998 on West Springfield Avenue in Champaign under the previous name El Torero, and other locations followed.

Fuentes is also interested in classic cars and outdoor activities, including hunting, and has learned a few things about what it takes to be successful in business.

“I think it took me a long time to figure that out,” he said. “In my opinion, to be successful you have to remain humble and willing to learn and not be ashamed to ask for knowledge and help. If I want to grow as a company and as a person, that’s the most important thing I’ve learned.”

His advice to future entrepreneurs is, “First and foremost, you have to believe in yourself,” he said.

And he warns, “If you think you’re going to work 50 hours, multiply that by two.”

Looking at business owners he knows across a variety of industries, Fuentes said those who are most successful aren’t necessarily the smartest, but those who are willing to work the hardest.

“I think people who are doing it, who are really good at it, put in the time,” he said. “You have to be the one to make it happen.”

The restaurant business will eventually bounce back, Fuentes said, but “I don’t see things getting any better anytime soon.”

In addition to the usual restaurant stress, there are now additional stressors that weren’t there before — including hiring enough staff and the rising prices and availability of needed supplies, Fuentes said.

Employment remains one of the biggest problems, he said.

“I think it will evolve. I don’t know what’s in it,” he said. “I wish I knew the answer.”

Prices on El Toro’s menu have gone up a bit, Fuentes said, but not as much as some other restaurants. Keeping El Toro affordable is important to him.

“We know how difficult it is for families in the community,” he said.

The winners of the award that Fuentes receives must not only demonstrate the best qualities of entrepreneurship, but also be the founder of their company, and the origin of the company must include vision, risk and creativity.

The company aims to be profitable and demonstrate growth, innovative employee programs and the ability to overcome adversity, according to the foundation.

When Parkland President Tom Ramage told him he would be honored, Fuentes recalled, “I said thank you. I said I don’t think I deserve it.”

Ramage told him about some of the previous award winners, and many are people he admires from afar, Fuentes said.

“I don’t see myself in that category,” he said.

Previous recipients of the V. Dale Cozad Award for Entrepreneur of the Year:

– 2019: David Downey.

– 2018: Robert Libman and family.

— 2017 Jeffrey Hartman.

– 2016: Lori Gold Patterson.

– 2015: Steve Hillard.

– 2014: Murray Wise.

— 2013: Rudy Frasca.

– 2012: Dwight Miller.

– 2011: Rick Stephens.

– 2010: Clinton Atkins.

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