Giving Birth To Ricardo’s

Bookmarks, People 4 minutes, 21 seconds


WHEN Spanish restaurant Caliente closed down years ago due to financial losses, Abdul Hakeem Abdul Rahim kept his interest in the food business alive. But it took some time and wife Mari Lin Gonzalez’ authentic Mexican cooking to rekindle that dream before the husband-and-wife duo gave birth to Ricardo’s Mexican Delivery, Belait’s new smash hit home-based business.

The two got married after Hakeem let go of Caliente, his first attempt in the food business. He opened Caliente in Kiulap when he came back from overseas after completing his studies. He got a loan from his family to open the restaurant. However, even before it opened, he was already incurring losses. To open the restaurant, Hakeem did everything by the book, following the steps needed and applied for the necessary documents such as licence and quotas. While waiting for approvals from authorities, money for rent was draining already.

“Opening the restaurant was challenging enough. On top of that, I was young and going against other restaurants in Brunei,” says Hakeem.

As he was struggling to keep the restaurant up and running, he brought in business partners. This resulted in a clash of ideas in running the business unfortunately. Mari saw how Hakeem struggled with the restaurant. “I saw him pretty much crumbling,” she recalls. “His passion, his drive was crumbling.” After two years of putting up a fight to keep Caliente, Hakeem gave in and let go of it. Hakeem and Mari then decided to get married.

“At that time we just got married, it was a difficult time for the both of us. We didn’t have much money,” says Hakeem.

Not long after tying the knot, Hakeem got a call from a private company in Kuala Belait offering him a position in its finance department. He took the job offer and they moved to Belait. Hakeem’s dream of wanting to cook and run his own food business was still there.

“I decided to make Mexican food one day for lunch,” says Mari. “I made it for him and he said it was really good.”

Mari cooked and packed lunch for Hakeem, who then shared the food with his co-workers while getting their feedback. And then orders for Mexican food trickled in. Within months, the business took off by itself, says Mari. Husband and wife came up with a routine. Hakeem would work nine to five and when he came home they would work together making food and delivering them. After over a year, Hakeem saw that earnings from their food business was exceeding his salary. He quit his day job so he and Mari would be able to work on Ricardo’s Mexican Delivery full time.

This time around working as husband and wife proved to be better for the business.

“We are both owners. We are both chefs,” says Hakeem.

“We are both delivery boys, too,” says Mari.

Running the business as husband and wife “works because we are alike”, says Hakeem.

“It’s easier when you have a common goal,” adds Mari. “(But) as with every other business, there are always stressful times but we have to be professional.

“We have to remember that we are not just husband and wife, we are the bosses. When we make mistakes we have to correct each other. It’s not always easy but at the end of the day, when we ‘shut off’ and go back to our family, we talk as husband and wife.”

Mari says their food business is a family business, and it takes a page from the memories of her grandfather Ricardo Gonzalez who was originally from Mexico. He made a living playing music and was a member of a Mariachi band in the US. The band’s lead singer opened up a restaurant in Los Angeles. That restaurant became the first dine-in Mariachi theatre in the world, says Mari.

At that restaurant, people could have authentic Mexican food while enjoying authentic Mexican entertainment, she adds.

“That food and music was a part of my life growing up (in Los Angeles).”

Ricardo’s Mexican Delivery is an extension of the granddad’s legacy in Mexican entertainment and food, Hakeem says.

The duo put emphasis on the business being a family endeavour as it took off when Mari was pregnant. They were both motivated to keep it running because they knew a baby was on its way.

“I worked all the way throughout my pregnancy,” says Mari. The only time she stopped working and cancelled orders was when she went into labour, Hakeem recalls.

Running the business between the two of them can be quite strenuous, says Mari. “It is challenging because (growth) is much slower but there are more rewards to be had. There are no conflicts.

“Whatever mistakes that are made, we know they are our own and there is nobody to blame (but ourselves). Also we are involved in everything we do,” adds Mari.

What keeps them motivated is their son Ilyas Ricardo Abdul Hakeem, who is one year and nine months old. What Mari and Hakeem want is for their son to see that as a family, they work together and that family always comes first.

The Brunei Times