Gilroy business highlights for 2018

Big or small: the business of local garlic, burgers, rodeo cowboys and boxing for all


Gilroy businesses were in the news in 2018. In a year of ups and downs, they persevered and some thrived. Here are several of those stories.

Good garlic, good news at Christopher Ranch

The start of 2018 was not great for Gilroy’s garlic giant Christopher Ranch. After the Netflix documentary series, “Rotten” blasted the company over allegations that Christopher Ranch imported Chinese grown garlic tied to prison labor, the company’s reputation around the country took a hit. But you can’t keep good garlic down, and  executive vice president Ken Christopher spearheaded a nationwide public relations campaign.

“We have absolutely not, never, used Chinese garlic, past, present or future,” Ken Christopher said in an interview in September. “We take pride in our integrity. We’re not a faceless company. We’re a 62-year family farm that has had success.”

Due to the allegations, Christopher Ranch recommitted itself to transparency, invested in expensive software to monitor online chatter about the company, and made a concerted effort to answer all questions and requests for tours.

Along with a series of full-page informational ads in the Gilroy Dispatch, Christopher Ranch committed itself to raise the company’s minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, gave their support for a stiff tariff on imported Chinese garlic and donated almost $200,000 to local charities.

Train like a champ, with the champ

What do you get when you combine Gilroy’s most prominent celebrity son, Robert Guerrero, and a new downtown business? That would be Pound 4 Pound Sports Fitness, the Guerrero family-run boxing gym at 7648 Monterey St. Along with Robert Guerrero, a former champion boxer, trainees can glean boxing wisdom and motivation from Robert’s father and trainer, Ruben Guerrero.

“We’re here to build champions,” said Ruben Guerrero.

Given the speed, power and endurance needed to stand in the ring with a trained fighter, the process can be daunting. But Pound 4 Pound isn’t just for future pros, but also average Joes looking for a good workout.

“It’s awesome, and if you’re trying to get in shape, coming here is very motivating, and it’s a welcoming atmosphere,” Gilroyan Jim Balbas said. “Where else can a guy come in from the street and have guys like this helping you out?”

The Guerreros also have a higher goal in mind. Since boxing was such a positive and ultimately life-altering influence on Robert Guerrero’s life, the Guerreros want to open the gym’s door to local Gilroy youth who can learn valuable life lessons in the ring.

“We get kids from the streets, but we also take in kids from the YMCA and the Gilroy Youth Alliance,” Maricela Guerrero said. “ We’ve also reached out to local high schools and the Gilroy Department of Parks and Recreation. We want to get kids off the street and keep them out of trouble.”

Small business, big job

Anyone who’s been in this position knows it to be true; running a small business is big work. Bruce Haller, the owner of Cafe 152 Burger Company and Cafe 152 Bread Company, is living proof of that. Even if the profit margins can be razor thin at times, and that doing business in California can be a challenge, everybody needs to eat, and if the food is good, customers will be there.

“One of the great things about my work is that everyone likes to eat,” Haller said. “To do what you love, you overlook the roadblocks.”

The restaurant business can take its toll, though. Earlier in the year, Haller underwent triple bypass surgery, motivating him to sell his Der Wienerschnitzel franchise on First Street. The restaurant business carries a significant risk, and failure is common. Haller has noticed that given the high cost of living in the Bay Area, people have less disposable income, making trips out to their favorite restaurants hard to afford.

“In the Central Valley you’ll notice that restaurants are packed,” Haller said. “People there have disposable money to spend; they’re not house poor. When you struggle just to pay rent, there isn’t much money to spend going out.”

For Haller success comes down to frugality, good ingredients, good people, and strict attention to financial details. The restaurant business can be treacherous, but with the right plan, it can be done right.

“Know your costs and get a good bookkeeper,” Haller said. “Lots of small businesses don’t know their costs, and they don’t know what their prices should be. Lots of new companies don’t even put together a business plan. They get by on family money and credit cards.”

If you build it, they will ride

It takes a lot of guts to ride a bull or bucking bronc in the rodeo. And it takes a lot of guts to start a rodeo. Gilroyan Erik Martin did just that. A good idea turned into a year’s worth of work, a full rodeo stadium, and an inaugural rodeo weekend that brought thousands of rodeo fans and dozens of riders to Gilroy.

I asked my wife, Kendra, ‘Why isn’t there a rodeo in town?’”Martin said. “She said, ‘Because all the other wives said no.’ Well, she said yes.”

Over the months and through thousands of hours of work by both Martin and a team of volunteers, a 310-by-150-foot, 5,000-seat arena rose on Martin’s property on the outskirts of Gilroy. Obtaining all the permits from the Santa Clara County was difficult, but when all the prep work was finished, the opening rodeo weekend was a rip-snorting success.

“It’s good to have that one out of the chute,” Martin said as the rodeo closed. “It was definitely a success. Look at the stands. People were coming up to me thanking me for doing this. I had their total support; I was getting hugs. It was an awesome day.”

The rodeo weekend wasn’t entirely smooth. A snafu with the online ticket retailer limited sales, and police security cost about $14,000. With 4,400 tickets sold over the weekend, Martin estimated that the rodeo lost $20,000. Despite the loss, Martin plans to bring the rodeo back next year, and hopefully many years beyond that.  

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