This story was updated at 2:15 p.m. Thursday
Maria Flores arrived in Maryland about 20 years ago after immigrating to the United States from Mexico. After working her way up to a manager position at McDonald’s, Flores and her husband decided to take a shot at the American Dream.
They opened a Mexican restaurant six years ago in Elkridge. A second one followed in 2008 in Catonsville, a suburb outside southwestern Baltimore.
But the couple’s dream has been faced with a nightmarish economy. And now, the Elkridge location will close, according to an El Nayar post on Facebook.
"Unfortunately, we have decided to close Elkridge," an El Nayar representative posted on the Catonsville Facebook page Thursday. "We can't thank enough everyone who has wished us the best and gave us their loving comments. We will continue fighting for our business and continue to improve."
The number to the Elkridge business was disconnected Thursday.
“We put every single penny into our business,” Flores, 38, told Patch earlier this week. “I can start over if I have to, but I will fight for my business.”
She has had to reduced hours, cut staff and temporarily close the restaurants to figure out if they can move forward with $600,000 in debts to creditors and a shrinking customer base caused by the recession and weak recovery—a situation that has closed many other small businesses in the region, according to one expert.
Small Business Face Challenges
“After the recession…business went down," said Flores, a mother of three.
The restaurant is named after Nayarit, the Mexican state where Flores grew up and worked at a lunch stand run by her mother, according to the Catonsville Times.
She used to have 12 employees at the Elkridge location. The week before closing: two.
A friend and advisor to Flores agreed that small businesses continue to face challenges.
“I’m just running into people who are closing down and getting ready to close. I don’t think the economy is looking particularly great,” said L. C. Aaronson, director of the Enterprise Institute at the Community College of Baltimore County in Catonsville.
Aaronson coordinates the annual Women’s Expo at CCBC, an event he said usually attracts 175 vendors. “This year we were down to 135,” he said. “Twenty-five women who are normally there every year were out of business.”
Said Aaronson: “These small restaurants are getting hurt pretty badly” and at El Nayar, he added: “Sales have been way off for her the past two years.”
Flores said that during the recession, people were cooking at home more frequently and costs were continuing to rise.
Rising Through The Ranks
Before opening El Nayar, Flores ran a food truck with her husband, Octaviano. She had also worked at McDonald’s in Montgomery County, where she rose through the ranks to manager.
She worked for McDonald’s for 15 years and continued to do so the first six months El Nayar was open.
“I like to work,” explained Flores. “I love to serve customers.”
And, she is prepared to go back to work for someone else if she has to, she said.
While Patch interviewed Flores at a picnic table in front of the Elkridge restaurant earlier this week, her husband (who is also her business partner) periodically knocked on the window, holding the telephone and gesturing that people wanted to speak with her.
Customers waved as they came and went, offering encouraging words for Flores, whose eyes welled when asked whether El Nayar would close.
Flores said there were people interested in helping her save the business: "We’re going to come back," she said.
’When it happens, I will believe it,” said Aaronson. “I’ve been true with many clients and businesses before. I’m always very cautious.”
Flores, however, has faith that goes beyond typical business plans.
Said Flores: “I have angels.”
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You can find more articles from this ongoing series, “Dispatches: The Changing American Dream” from across the country at The Huffington Post.