The owner of San Antonio’s Speedy’s Chicken goes on my list of ‘interesting people I’ve met in real life via social media.’ I believe we became Facebook friends because of mutual college friends (Eat’em up Cats!) and once I found out about his success at such a young age, I became intrigued. I recently sat down with Ruben Vela because I wanted to know how did such a young Latino decide he would take charge of his own career.
He began his own business at the age of 22 and simply ‘didn’t give up.’ Since the age of 17, he has been making it on his own. Mostly, he worked in fried-chicken joints learning not just how to fry the chicken but how to run a business. “I learned to take the best of what I saw in the people I worked for in the past. I took a little bit from everybody.”
“I just knew that one day I would own my own restaurant,” Vela replied when I asked him what made him want to open a restaurant. “I know the systems. I know chicken.” He says he ‘grew up’ in the restaurant business and considers his on-the-job training his own college education.
Ruben grew up in Waco, TX. He was no stranger to hard work as he watched his parents work hard and make sacrifices to support their family. Working hard is what Ruben has been doing since he was 15 and doing that in a management role since the age of 16. I asked him if he had to work in order to help support his family, a common necessity for many Latino families. Ruben responded, “No, I decided to go to work instead of staying after school to play baseball. I enjoyed my job.”
What are you most proud of?
“How fast I’ve accomplished everything.” Ruben opened Speedy’s Chicken in a mobile truck in 2006 and moved in to his first building within 8 months. His restaurant has been successful and he will celebrate six years in October. (Do the math, he’s only 28.) Despite there being nine fried chicken restaurants in a 10 mile stretch, every year sales continue to increase at Speedy’s Chicken. The competition very well may have moved in the market because of Vela’s success.
Ruben’s wife Lisa is his partner in the business and has been his number one supporter. “If she wasn’t here today, I don’t know where I would be,” the young entrepreneur admits. Vela mostly relies on his wife and his parents for support and advice.
What do you want your legacy to be?
“Just for people to know I’m a good person and I helped when I could. And maybe a competitive athlete.”
Ruben’s ‘hobby’ is competitive martial arts. Growing up, his family couldn’t afford to put him in martial arts. Now that he and his business are at a point where he personally doesn’t have to work at the restaurant, he can take the time to dedicate to his work outs.
How does someone who is as physically fit as a competitive martial arts athlete run a fried chicken restaurant?
Ruben responds laughingly, “People ask me that all the time. I’m not out to push people to eat my product every day. Come enjoy it every once in a while. I do take pride in what I’ve done but my goal is not to make money off people and ruin their health.”
Ruben, do you feel connected to your local, mostly Hispanic community?
“I do recognize the respect I get from the Hispanic community. People tell me that the Hispanic community knows about me and what I have accomplished. This community has supported me and talk about how I started and how quickly I came along. I feel connected because they are the ones that have supported me all along. I am proud of that.
We do whatever we can to give back. We try to give when the community asks for donations or sponsorships for example at high schools or non-profit organizations. We always like to give back to the South Side. They have supported me so if they ask for something, I try to do my best to give back to them.
I would love to help other young people who want to start their own businesses. It kinda blows my mind when I think about the college students who came to me and ask me how to get started or tell me that I am where they want to be one day.”
The near future for Vela will be venturing out in marketing and sharing what he has learned as a business owner.
“I know what it’s like to put your money in advertising and I have good ideas on how to get a return on one’s investments.” You will find his new website for Reel Marketing at www.thegreatestvaluebook.com
If you are in San Antonio and looking for some delicious fried chicken and quite possibly the best sweet tea in town, Speedy’s Chicken is your place. For two of our lucky readers, you can win $20 gift certificates to this gem on the city’s South Side. Just enter below.
Thanks Ruben for sharing your story with ¿Qué Means What? Readers, you can find Speedy’s Chicken at 522 S.W. Military Drive, San Antonio, TX 78221, 210-248-9454 and on Facebook.com/speedyschicken (Photo courtesy of Speedy’s Chicken)