In 2004, Ricardo Añorve opened his first place with 5 tables on the street. Today, Sonora Grill Group is a 100% Mexican restaurant giant.
Sonora Grill ‘s story is similar to that of many other food and beverage businesses, but its founder made it extraordinary. In 2004, entrepreneur Ricardo Añorve opened a small taqueria on the corner of División del Norte and Eje 5, in Colonia del Valle, Mexico City. The place, barely 8 square meters, only had 5 tables and chairs on the street, a grill, a sauce bar and six employees. However, it was only the beginning to make his dream come true: to have his own company.
That small taco joint became the Sonora Grill Group, which by 2022 encompasses 40 restaurants and employs more than 3,500 people . It has five concepts: Sonora Grill, Sonora PRIME, Parrilla Urbana, ROOF, Holsteins and, soon, Terraza Stella. They have a presence in 12 cities in Mexico, including Guadalajara, Puerto Vallarta, Monterrey, Playa del Carmen, Cancún, Mérida, Veracruz and Mexico City.
Back then it was called Sonora Taco Grill and its specialty was steak tacos. A Mexican concept that came to compete in a segment dominated by Argentine and Uruguayan restaurants.
“Our proposal included high vacuum cuts and cooked at the moment, so the price difference was significant,” Ricardo told Emprendedor.com a few years ago. “In the end, people received tacos and not cuts,” added the businessman, who came from working for one of the most important restaurant groups in Mexico.
It took between two and three months for the business to begin to position itself and diners fell in love with the concept, to the point of lining up to be served. Despite the lack of space and infrastructure, the entrepreneur knew how to maximize the available resources. Everything was done by hand: from the preparation of the meat, to the preparation of the tortillas and the 10 different sauces.
The challenge of expanding Sonora Grill
After testing the potential of the concept, a first stage of expansion came with the opening of three units and their arrival in the Roma neighborhood. Following the voice of the market, the menu was expanded to please customers. They added more steaks, salads, gravy, soups, pasta, and Mexican wines. The next challenge was to start a business in Puerto Vallarta, “where they are used to having places with very good food,” said the entrepreneur.
For Ricardo, eating well and being well looked after is implicit in a business. “We add more spacious places, with large terraces, privileged locations (on corners), first-class attention and service, and we project audiovisuals made ‘in house’, with videos of art or landscapes of Mexico and not sports as in other restaurants . Everything for the client to enjoy as a couple, with friends or on business appointments”, he explained.
The great challenge in a food and beverage model, according to the entrepreneur, is that every day is a new beginning. “If you prepare a cut well, you have to do it that way every day and in all your branches.” Therefore, together with his group of partners, he created internal processes and departments that coordinate the more than 3,500 group employees, and reinvest 95% of profits to sustain growth.
Absorbed by daily shifts of up to 18 hours, Ricardo began to delegate functions. He hired managers and a chef so that the growth of his business would not become a headache, but rather a huge area of opportunity to be explored. Today he feels fulfilled as an entrepreneur who enjoys what he does without being a slave to the daily operation of his business.
Quality inputs, the key to its growth
As of the opening of the fifth branch, in 2009, a problem arose with the supply of national meat. The volumes increased, but the quality was not the same and the diners noticed it. The solution was to incorporate a new supplier from the United States with Sterling Silver quality meat, a certification that only 8% of the meat worldwide has.
Adding partners allowed him to create Sonora Grill Prime in 2015, a concept with finer and more expensive cuts, which has recently been the focus of controversy. Here the added values were key: they introduced cuts with Prime certification, which only has 2% of the meat in the world. A special menu was also designed with the help of chef Eduardo Ruiz.
This not only helped to solve the supply of its main input, it also allowed Sonora Grill to reposition itself in the market and conquer another customer profile, willing to pay for a superior product.
“With this we managed to scale the average ticket, which we brought in the rest of the branches, from 450 pesos, up to 700 or 800 pesos per person,” said Añorve. However, restaurant prices are, on average, 30% lower compared to other establishments, according to the founder.
Ricardo Añorve always had an entrepreneurial vision
The founder and CEO of Sonora Grill Group was born in Oaxaca, where his grandmother passed on a love for simple and delicious food. From a very young age, his life plan was to be independent and seek self-employment. At the age of 20, he moved to Puebla to finish his degree in Business Administration.
Already with the idea of opening his own restaurant, he worked in several renowned chains, where he learned enough about the restaurant business. At age 21, Añorve opened his first Japanese food establishment in Oaxaca, later working for a time in Cancun. Finally, in 2001, he migrated to Mexico City to create his own business and just three years later his first Sonora Taco Grill was born. And the rest is history.
Ricardo Añorve has received recognition as Chain Director of the Year by Canirac (2016), Entrepreneur of the Year by the consulting firm EY (2017) and The Key to Progress by AMAIT in 2018. For its part, Sonora Grill Group obtained the distinction of IMPI Famous Brand in 2019.