We at the Insider caught up with entrepreneur Octavio Gomez, one of the creative business forces behind places like Crave Kitchen, The Garden, 1914 Lounge, The Mix, and the upcoming eco-friendly Montecillo development. These establishments illustrate the impact Octavio is having on El Paso’s business landscape including Downtown. We decided to delve a little deeper into the motivations behind these projects and see where Octavio is headed going into 2014.
Insider: Why did you choose to start some of your business ideas in Downtown (The Garden, 1914 Lounge, the Mix)-and Union Plaza specifically?
Octavio: When I was young, in high school, I can remember wanting to do something about downtown. It was so abandoned and overlooked by so many that I can honestly say that I always wanted to start a business downtown and do my part in revitalizing and re-energizing it.
Insider: What changes have you seen in Downtown the past 3-4 years that show a promising future?
Octavio: I’ve seen people get excited about downtown, people are visiting more often and there’s events like Neon Desert as well as small restaurants opening up. There is obviously the AAA baseball team moving down here so there’s a lot of energy surrounding downtown right now and it’s going to turn out great, just watch!
Insider: What is the most exciting change you are looking forward to in Downtown this year?
Octavio: The project that I am most looking forward to in 2014 is the baseball stadium. It has been nine years now since I moved downtown and I would have never believed that there would be a AAA stadium a block away from Union Plaza. This will be a game changer for us down there, to have 72 games a year and at the same time have El Pasoans realize that there is a real entertainment district and that downtown has something to offer. I still think that maybe half of El Paso does not know that Union Plaza even exists. That there is a vibrant downtown that is open after 5pm, where you can go eat, drink, and shop all in one place with a total of 18 businesses all in a two block area.
Insider: The Mix is a mixed-use development. Why do you think these types of developments are important, especially in a Downtown?
Octavio: Mixed-use projects are essential in a downtown because it brings in more residential traffic. Now you have 20 young excited residents eager to make downtown turn into something bigger. People that are shopping downstairs, that are eating at the restaurants, and having a drink at the bars-they are all stimulating the economy down there making downtown a better place.
Insider: You opened The Mix last year, which consists of apartment units on the second floor and commercial spaces on the ground floor. Do you have any plans for opening another housing development Downtown?
I am always looking for more projects downtown and I would really like to do more residential. I am proud of how The Mix worked out and how people accepted it immediately. I’m currently working on a couple projects in Union Plaza, bringing in smaller retail spaces and making them available to people trying to start their business; either office space or retail. I know of current projects being done by others in Union Plaza or near downtown which excites me as well. All the movement going on will finally make others realize that El Paso’s downtown is finally here.
Insider: Of the different type of businesses you have opened (restaurants, lounges, retail, and housing), which has been the most challenging and why?
Octavio: It’s kind of hard to say which has been the hardest project because each has had its own challenges. I started with 1914 Lounge in a dark lonely block with no clue as to what I was really doing; so, the challenge there was just navigating through how to even start a business and keep it afloat. Next, I opened The Garden, building a 12,000 square-foot restaurant; that’s a challenge no matter who you are. The Mix, was my first residential project and it was one where I had to renovate an old building into what is now new apartments and retail space below.
Insider: Why do you think it is important for El Paso to invest in its Downtown?
Octavio: Downtown is the heart of a city and of its region. It’s the first impression of the city. It’s the history that a city preserves as a showcase. It’s about Tourism, it’s about bringing people in town, it’s about making El Paso excited about something we all have in common because downtown belongs to everyone.
Insider: Which accomplishments are you most proud of so far?
Octavio: I never stop and think about it, but I think I’m most proud of getting people to open their eyes to the idea of investing or living downtown. I love seeing people opening their business here and being successful. I hope I somehow played a small part in having these people believe.
Insider: You seem to be in the vanguard of young entrepreneurs shaping the business landscape of El Paso and Downtown for the next few generations, how you do feel about that responsibility?
I would never think of it as a responsibility because I just love what I do and what I’ve been able to achieve. I love my city and I want to see it continue to grow. I couldn’t have done it on my own. I have a great group of supporters and partners that believe in my ideas. Together we try to do different things that maybe you see in other cities and want people here in town to experience. We want El Paso to get to the point where people in other cities talk about US for a change! Then maybe compare El Paso to themselves.
Insider: What do you hope to achieve in 2014?
On a personal level- get the additional retail spaces open and then finish the Montecillo project on Mesa street, on time. We plan on continuing to kick butt here in Union Plaza, support AAA baseball and make sure it’s a success while continuing to grow downtown and support people that are helping it to grow.