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One more time at Una Mas

Mexican grill a prime example of a successful neighborhood business

Posted: December 24, 2008 5:39 p.m.
Updated: December 25, 2008 4:55 a.m.

Abby Savell (left) is handed her fajitas by Rama Iyengar, the owner of Una Mas, at the Golden Valley shopping center during their grand opening held Dec. 11.

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Franchisee Rama Iyengar of Canyon Country and his Una Mas Mexican Grill are an example of success that resounds when business works with its community.

Southern California's first Una Mas Mexican Grill opened on Golden Valley Road in June.

As a stock broker, Iyengar, 64, had no experience when it came to managing a restaurant, but judging from the supporters and local officials who turned out Dec. 11 for the grand opening, Iyengar and his restaurant are making an impact.

"The first day Rama opened, he had a fundraiser for the football team," said Greg Sutalo, president of the Golden Valley High School football booster club. "From that day forward he's been active in the school. He's been supportive. He actually flipped a coin with our quarterback at a game."

Iyengar prides himself on having an aggressive fundraising tactic.

"I love meeting people and fundraising for the different schools here," he said.

Local sports teams can reserve a date at the restaurant to play an old victory game on the multiple television screens scattered around the restaurant. In return for the business, Iyengar donates 15 percent of sales to the team.

Even weeks after the fundraising event, Iyengar continues to donate 15 percent of a sale to a partnering team if a customer asks to do so.

For companies who order catered meals costing more than $50, Iyengar donates 5 percent of the sale to the company's charity of choice.

Iyengar is discovering the stress of business but balances it with the social benefits.

"It's hard. I work a lot of hours. But I do meet a lot of people and the fun part of it is exchanging topics with them," Iyengar said.

Employee Kirsten Lunt of Saugus said all the fundraising that goes on in the restaurant makes it a fun place to work. Lunt is one of 14 Una Mas employees.

There are 24 Una Mas locations in Northern California and the Southern California addition makes 25, Iyengar said.

His brother, part owner of the Una Mas chain, gave Iyengar the idea to open the location.

It's far from the only Mexican restaurant in town, but customers enjoy the fresh, no lard, no MSG and zero-trans-fat-oil ingredients and the create-your-own-burrito style of ordering.

"It's nice that it's freshly made right in front of you, whatever way you want it," said Michelle Garcia of Canyon Country. "It seems healthy for Mexican food and it's not greasy."

"I like the tacos," said an enthusiastic 9-year-old Rachel Spitzer.

The grill is not suffering from the effects of the bad economy, which is in part due to his loyal customer base, Iyengar said.


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