Photo by Rosa Cautela

Beacon of Goodness

The current national narrative surrounding big and little businesses can be stated in one equation: big business = Godzilla + stomping – mom and pop shop = death to independents.

This scenario is played out everywhere—from Ben & Jerry’s purchase by Unilever to Columbus’s own Dispatch getting sucked into the New Media vortex. It is a lovely breath of fresh air when the equation gets turned on its head and instead of Goliath-esque destruction, David gets a helping hand. Such was the case when I fell in love with the new taqueria, El Ranchito.

The restaurant caught my eye from the road one day last fall. Formerly The Breakfast Barn, the familiar red building was always there, still sporting its tired old Breakfast Barn signage. Overnight, it seemed, it was suddenly beckoning customers with an “OPEN” sign blazing in the window. My curiosity was piqued by a retired yellow taco truck just visiable from behind the building. After all, who can resist the promise of authentic tacos on this tree-lined strip of Brown Road near Greenlawn Cemetery?

Indeed. El Ranchito is the concrete culmination of Rogelio Herrera’s dream for himself and his family: wife Maria, daughters Miriam and Alejandra. Rogelio, a kindly man who tirelessly works the grill, came north from Michoacán, Mexico, many years ago. A seasoned restaurant vet on both sides of the border, the chef always carried family and regional recipes in his heart. After starting a family in California, Rogelio moved to Columbus 13 years ago. As time passed, he and his wife saved diligently and planned. And then planned some more. His daughter Miriam, the cheery spokesperson of the family, explained her father’s business blueprint:

“Our family is all partners. We have worked together to create El Ranchito as a restaurant that delivers authentic taqueria-style food at a good price, offering delicious, homemade Mexican food. We want to make the sort of food that we eat ourselves—authentic stuff.”

Eventually, after all the planning, it was time to put the meals on the table. El Ranchito opened on November 10, 2014. Every day, Rogelio can be found in the shiny new kitchen that overlooks the orange-and-brick toned dining room, smiling underneath his salt-and-pepper mustache while cranking out sublimely elegant creations. Maria makes her rounds through the cozy dining area, while sisters Miriam and Alejandra handle the counter and much of the service. There’s a fresh sense of pride in this family operation. Decor is light, the business is young, but the spirit and food deliver as well as any established Columbus favorite.

Yet I knew something was missing. Proud owner? Check. Family-run? Check. Spot-on food? Check. I mean, it was a big red barn on the side of the road, but there was no beckoning beacon—no way for people to know the goodness within.

To be fair, the Herrera family was already on the ball: signs were on the to-do list, but the family hadn’t decided how to proceed. What size, what colors? Logo?
Between bites of a burrito with lime, it hit me. Identity Systems, my employer, is a world-class sign manufacturer. Granted, we typically serve international retailers with high-volume nametags and custom signage, and El Ranchito was just a tiny joint down the street. Yet there were similarities: both organizations are family businesses, both believe in hard work, and one  serves delicious tacos while the other makes signs. This plan went together like beans and rice.

Back to work I went. A quick meeting with our founders and it was decided: we would first produce a logo that embodied the family and food spirit of the Herreras and then construct a custom two-sided, backlit sign to replace the dilapidated roadside Breakfast Barn eyesore. For the sake of time and savings, we would reuse what we could of the existing sign and get a quality unit up and running as quickly as possible.

While the existing sign’s steel pole and backlighting were deemed functional—after some repairs by family friends—the large plastic inserts were doomed. Our purchasing agent Les Burchett reached out to local distributor Laird Plastics with the material request. As a longtime partner of Identity Systems, Laird generously contributed materials to the project. I designed the El Ranchito logo, and our art director Terry Davidson plotted the vinyl art then painstakingly applied it to the acrylic material. Also joining the party was local manufacturer Capital City Awning, which had already been commissioned by El Ranchito and was more than happy to integrate the newly designed logo onto the dark green overhang.

The whole process was like The Beatles song “With a Little Help From My Friends” and shows what cooperation between the big guys and the little guys can look like.

However, the proof is in the pudding, or, I suppose, the truth is in the taco, and since the signage and awning perched itself on Rogerio’s little corner of the American dream, business has flourished. “Our business has grown by 50 percent since the Identity Systems signs were installed,” Miriam said.  “It’s so great. We are so happy with you guys, we don’t know what to say. Thank you so much for everything; the sign has really helped our business and made such a difference.”

Check ou El Ranchito on Facebook, or stop by the taqueria at
1275 Brown Rd., near I-71 at Greenlawn Ave. Look for the sign.