The customer comes first is a famous adage that Paola Russell, owner of Healthy Bite not only takes to heart but elevates to a whole new level. Healthy Bite is a health food eatery not far from San Jacinto Plaza in Downtown El Paso. While some business owners might lose passion for the business after facing a flurry of hardships, and give in to the temptation to be negative, Paola has maintained a radiance and positivity for over a decade now. April 2022 marked the 12 -year anniversary of Healthy Bite and Paola’s entrepreneurial run.
Following the recession of 2008, Paola’s father lost his automotive business and was left wondering what was next. As a recently graduated international collegiate student, Paola recognized the opportunity to help her family by investing in a family business (Healthy Bite) in El Paso while also acquiring a green card in the United States.
“When I was an architecture major and you’re [working with] blueprints and drafts, you cannot have grease on your hands, so I became a huge smoothie maker. From there, I went on this health trip, and in Mexico nobody used to eat like that, but now they do. I’m a big advocate of health stuff,” Paola told us with a nostalgic smile while tending her active children in the shop.
Speaking of family, Paola’s mother, Patricia works at the business as well. “Working with my mom has been an experience, let me tell you,” Paola says after an expressive pause to answer. She recognizes the similarities and the glaring differences that come to light when negotiating the trials of working closely with family. “She works hard, and this is her first job! She calls everybody Mija and Mijo, it’s hilarious,” Paola said with pride. There is a symbiotic relationship whereby her parents are an important part of operations in the retirement phase of their life, and Paola is running the business with oversight in all other aspects, including finances, marketing, and management. The business is a legacy for the multi-generational family.
Paola describes her customers as “amazing, beautiful human beings,” and she feels a lot of gratitude for every single person who walks into her restaurant. “I always say that whenever you choose to cross those doors and give us your trust, the least I can do is give back by [asking for] your name when you have been here five times, or ‘how you are doing, how’s your work, how’s your family?’ I try my best to really know my customers and treat them with respect.”
Paola not only cherishes her customers but also her employees. “My girls are always doing their best. Everybody’s always working hard, nobody’s slacking, ever.” This kind of loyalty and work ethic is hard to come by these days, but whatever management style is being utilized, it’s working.
Paola almost teared up after recalling her appreciation for making a meager $150 the first day of re-opening after the pandemic shutdown. Indeed, the obstacles are many, but a small business with a great attitude, nimble business sense, and a recognition of the Downtown family can weather the storms and be more than tenable.
Over the years, Paola Russell has gone from single college student to a married mother of two, with one on the way, and a seasoned business owner. She is a self-professed lover of self-improvement and healthy living through, food, music, literature, and anything else that promises to provide harmony. Her no excuses approach to life and her business has reaped enormous rewards in maintaining a reputation as a hands-on, personable, and resilient restaurant owner. “Not taking anything personally and knowing my [staff] is always doing their best,” is the mantra that encapsulates the attitude driving 12 years in business amongst the ever-evolving Downtown family.