It’s impressive-and rare-to come across a 27-year-old about to open his third business. Such is the case for Cheba Hut store GM-turned-franchisee Isaac Montoya, who is opening the brand’s second Albuquerque location in the city’s Cottonwood neighborhood in January.
At age 22, the Albuquerque local put his business degree with a focus in entrepreneurial studies to good use when he purchased the same Cheba Hut franchise across the street from the University of New Mexico where he worked in college. Now just 5 years later, Montoya’s success has given him the chance to reinvest in the brand and bring Cheba Hut to even more Albuquerque residents with whom the brand is already popular.
“In 2012, I came back to Albuquerque from Montana, where I went to school for a bit,” Montoya said. “I was finishing my degree here and began working at Cheba Hut in the interim. I was a GM at the location across the street from UNM for two years before the opportunity arose to become a franchisee at the same location I was managing. I was acting as an owner-operator for a while before recently handing off some responsibility to focus solely on growing the business.”
For Montoya, bringing a second Cheba Hut location to Albuquerque was a no-brainer due to the city’s growth and the chance to create jobs and help grow the local economy in the place he’s always called home. With each of his locations employing around 25 people, Montoya is creating the same opportunity to grow with the brand on a local level he had himself.
“Albuquerque is a big commuter town where a lot of people travel from the Northwest part of the city to the UNM area for work, so we’re in great position to capture those interested, familiar customers in their neighborhood as opposed to near their work,” Montoya said. “Expanding to an already engaged customer base that is familiar with and hungry for the product made perfect sense. As brand recognition continues to rise, customers are getting behind us and it’s great to be a part of. The revenue we’ve been able to generate has allowed us to get to this point and I’m happy to be the one to grow the brand here.”
Montoya’s entrepreneurial spirit extends beyond just Cheba Hut, as well. Two years after purchasing his first Cheba Hut location in 2014, he decided to branch out into another type of business and invested in an Anytime Fitness, opening a location about an hour north of Albuquerque when he was just 25. Now with his third business about to open, Montoya said he’s been able to embrace the challenges that have come with being a young business owner.
“One of the challenges of being a young entrepreneur is managing people who are older than me, some with more experience,” he said. “For me, the biggest thing is to be understanding and work with everyone. I make sure to emphasize there are brand processes we must adhere to, but my unique experience understanding employee hardships allows me to bring that commonality to the people on my team to help them and the business grow.”
Despite his numerous entrepreneurial successes in his young life thus far, it’s not all about business for Montoya. He and his wife love to travel and spend time outdoors. Before Cheba Hut, Montoya worked in the Forest Service as a firefighter and a trail crew member, mapping and clearing trails in the mountains. He now does a lot of hiking, snowboarding and skiing in his free time. Working with Cheba Hut has allowed him to maintain these freedoms, which he said is a large part of why he’s with the brand for the long haul.
“I’m connected to the brand because I believe in the product and the people,” Montoya said. “Our food is the best in the business and the people are just as important. The leadership team and the employees we bring in are all people who work hard and are invested in the brand. They want opportunity and want to be here, which adds to the culture. It’s a big part of who we are and why we're growing.”
As far as future growth is concerned, Montoya said he’s currently focused on getting this latest Cheba Hut location up and running, but has plans to pursue opening another location in Albuquerque, ideally in the Northeast part of town.
“We’re still in the planning stages, but if all goes according to plan with this location, we should be set to open our next location around in a year’s time,” Montoya said.