For a young El Paso couple, their dream business venture quickly turned into a nightmare after the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
But after making some adjustments to how they do business and getting some help from the U.S. Small Business Administration, they are confident they are back on track and they even have some expansion plans.
Husband and wife Jonathan Perez and Nadia Castorena, both 28, purchased a longstanding West El Paso business, The Bagel Shop, in April 2019.
At the time, it was like a dream come true, but then the pandemic hit a year later, hurting sales and forcing businesses across El Paso and the country to close.
“Like for everyone, it was a worldwide scary thing,” Perez said. “We didn’t know what would happen. We prayed to God and said, ‘You gave us this business; it’s in your hands.’”
Not only did the couple have to face the pandemic, but a months-long street project that tore up Mesa Street in front of their business made it difficult for customers to get to their doors.
“We were just trying to survive, but we were scared about the situation,” Perez said. “The sales dropped a lot.”
The Bagel Shop, located at 3800 N. Mesa, Suite C2-3, closed down for two months from late March to mid-May last year during the early stages of the pandemic, Castorena said.
When they reopened, they reduced their hours, cut their staff in about half and tried to limit their inventory to just what they could sell each day, she said.
They were also able to get three loans from the SBA under several different programs to help businesses struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
That helped them get through the rough times, they said.
Now, they are planning to add a drive-thru kiosk at Resler and Belvidere, also on the West Side, that will open in the next 90 days.
They also continue to operate a small satellite location at Fort Bliss at the Mendoza health clinic at 11335 Staff Sgt. Sims St.
That location was included in the original purchase when Perez and Castorena acquired The Bagel Shop in 2019 from Edgar Miles, one of the shop’s longtime owners.
Castorena had worked for Miles for several years, helping to run The Bagel Shop.
In 2019, Miles wanted to sell and was going to close down the business if he found no takers by that summer, she said.
“I was thinking, ‘Let’s do it,’” Castorena said. “I enjoyed working there. You meet a lot of people here and talk about interesting things.”
Perez remembers his wife waking up one morning and telling him that they should think about buying the business.
“I was a (medical) student in Mexico, and she was a worker here,” he said.
He initially thought it would be too expensive for them to achieve their dream, but then things started to line up.
They got help and support from Perez’s dad, his mother-in-law and other members of their families and close friends.
Miles also worked with the couple, who are both originally from Juárez, to come up with a price they could afford.
“We talked to Edgar. He is a super nice person,” Perez said. “He is one of a kind and helped us out. He showed me how to do everything – do the taxes, get the permits.
“Even now, we can give him a call and he is super willing to help us out,” Perez continued.
The couple said being able to buy The Bagel Shop “was like a gift from God and from Edgar.”
“It was like a miracle,” Perez said.
But the initial excitement soon wore off and the reality of running a business in a global pandemic set in.
“We are getting back to where we were,” Perez said. “It is still hard but not as hard as it was.”
The couple has some friends who have been helping with business advice.
Guillermo and Miriam Sosa, who used to own the Steakpedos restaurants at several El Paso shopping malls, have been particularly helpful, Perez said.
“They are helping us a lot,” he said. “Maybe later with God’s help, we are hoping to make it a franchise. We have a lot of work to do.”
The couple met when they were 15 at a church they were attending in Juárez. They became close friends and eventually got married. They will celebrate their fourth anniversary in May.
Perez said he would like to go back to college and study a field like accounting that he can use to help their business. His wife says right now, she wants to concentrate on running the Bagel Shop.
“It is super cool to own our own business, but it is hard at the same time,” Perez said. “You have to be your own supervisor. You have to work and have to push every day. You have to work that double shift and take care of everything. It’s a lot of work, but I don’t regret it.”
*What: The Bagel Shop.
*Where: 3800 N. Mesa, Suite C2-3.
*Hours: 7 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday.
*Other locations: They also operate a satellite location at Fort Bliss in the Mendoza health clinic and plan to open a drive-thru kiosk at Resler and Belvidere.
*Information: (915) 532-7070. You can phone ahead 24 hours in advance and request that they make extra of your favorite bagel.
Cover photo: Jonathan Perez and Nadia Castorena met in Juárez when they were 15 years old. They have now been married for four years and bought their business, The Bagel Shop, just over a year ago. (Corrie Boudreaux/El Paso Matters)