Thriving cities depend on the adventurous among us, who alter the urban landscape when they forge their own successful paths.

Each month, we ask an influential San Diegan: What was it like for you in the beginning?


Ralph Rubio

Co-Founder,  Rubio's Coastal Grill,  http://www.rubios.com
Live: Encinitas
Work: Carlsbad
How Long: 33 years


What was the moment that propelled you to open your own business?
My father was a self-made man who found success as an engineer in the reinforced plastics industry. On nights and weekends, with a family and full-time job nonetheless, my dad moonlighted on a side project where he eventually became an international plastics consultant. My father’s entrepreneurial spirit inspired me to someday find a business of my own to build. I worked in the restaurant industry throughout college, and after experiencing my first fish taco in Baja California, I knew I wanted to have my own restaurant and introduce fish tacos to San Diego.

What struggles did you face starting Rubio’s?
When we first opened the restaurant, we only had one paid employee. The other seven were all Rubio family members, including my mom and dad. We relied heavily on family and worked long, hard hours. We also lacked sales. Business was very slow since most people didn’t know what a fish taco was let alone this new, unheard of restaurant called Rubio’s. But over time through word of mouth we built a successful business. And in year three we opened our second and third restaurants. I’m proud to say we now have more than 4,000 paid employees working at Rubio’s Restaurants.

What was the riskiest business move you ever made?
Honestly, starting Rubio’s in the first place. The failure rate for restaurants was, and still is, very high. Our executive board and management team have always taken a conservative approach to business matters, keeping a healthy cash balance sheet, so we never got in big trouble or did anything I’d call “too risky.”

If you could change the past, is there anything in your career you’d do differently?
Not really. There have been a lot of ups and downs, but that makes it interesting, right? If I’d known how big Rubio’s would eventually grow, it would have been helpful to have outside management, executive experience or an MBA to better prepare me to lead a business like this, but I was having too much fun being a “beach-bum,” so I guess it wasn’t in the cards.

Could you ever go back to a “normal job” working for someone else?
Good question. I’m 60 and I’m still committed to Rubio’s for the foreseeable future, so I’m going to say the answer is no. I might start another restaurant concept or two with my son Ryan, who is getting his MBA at USC at the moment. Or maybe I’ll just retire to the beach, kind of like I did in college!

What personality traits must a successful business owner possess?
Self-belief, humility, a great work-ethic, good critical-thinking and problem-solving skills (there will be problems), strong communicator of ideas and vision, and a sense of humor, just to name a few.

In the beginning, if you could have had a glimpse into where your work is today, what three words describe how you might have felt?
WOW! Amazing! Really??!