Author: Teresa

Rick Caruso, a Latino chef in Lula, Calif., opened his first restaurant in the historic downtown

Rick Caruso, a Latino chef in Lula, Calif., opened his first restaurant in the historic downtown

Column: Rick Caruso’s Latino appeal isn’t bought — it’s real. But is it enough to win?

LULA, Calif. — Rick Caruso opened his doors to his Latino community in this town that’s not even his. As a manager of fast-food restaurants, he knows the power of a place to put down roots.

He did that for 20 years with his family’s company, Caruso’s, which had one location in Lula when his son started training to be a firefighter two doors down the road. Soon after that, his son began working as a firefighter, too. And two years later, Caruso, a native of New York and a retired firefighter, returned to Lula with his second wife, who he married when she was a baby.

By the time he opened the new Caruso’s in the historic downtown, he was raising his son and daughter, now 20 and 16, respectively, in the same house he and his wife once shared. That was part of his pitch to the community: “My goal was to make sure they had a safe space in which they could call home.”

Then came the recession. Soon the company he started with his father — Caruso’s restaurants, which has franchises in Texas and the Midwest, opened new locations where people had to take two buses to get to their jobs.

By the time he came back in 1996, Caruso could barely keep his doors open. During the first three months, he operated by taking a loan he took out to keep the business running — no equity. “I had no net worth,” he says.

But that didn’t stop him from starting a second restaurant with a partner in the neighborhood. He opened Caruso’s Pizza on the west side of town. Then, in August 2004, as a fire broke out at his new restaurant, he took a loan to purchase the empty place that was next to it and opened C’s Pizza.

He had the good fortune to buy it in such a short period of time. For the first three months, he was making $12,000 a week, not great for a restaurant

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