Los Amigos Mexican Grill: A Cultural Education through Food
Ana Olson describes owning a business as “creating the world around you.” As the owner of Los Amigos Mexican Bar and Grill, Olson’s world is rich with the flavors and culture of Mexico and a reverence for life in America through the eyes of an immigrant.
“I am a firm believer that food brings you culture, and that is a way that you can contribute to diversity and inclusion,” Olson expressed.
Olson bought Los Amigos in 2015, after working at the restaurant as a manager for two years. She speaks of working hard, long hours to manage the restaurant and increase revenue while she was still an employee.
“I felt as if I was building something that wasn’t going to be mine,” she said. “When the opportunity came up, I jumped on it.”
Olson dug deep into the concept of food as the great ambassador and expanded the menu to include original dishes as well as traditional Mexican cuisine not typically found in Muskegon. You can order Southwest pasta, a fusion dish with chorizo, pasta, and creamy chipotle sauce; a horchata shake; sweet mango with smoky chili powder, empanadas and more.
“Mexican cuisine is so much more than tacos, and we want to be different in that sense,” Olson expressed. “The food hopefully creates an intricate question in your mind and your heart of what else is out there.”
Los Amigos was at a pivotal growth point in late 2019; sales were booming and they were becoming the go-to spot for tequila (they currently carry more than 180 varieties). Olson decided it was time to update the dining room and bar, and in January 2020, renovations began. Then COVID hit and restaurants across West Michigan shut their doors and faced the agonizing road ahead. Olson had her recurring bills piling up, and had just invested a large amount of cash flow in the renovation.
“I never in a million years would have pictured myself in this situation,” Olson said. “You are a wreck in the background, but you have to be clear-headed.”
Olson emotionally recalled the difficulties of telling her staff they were shutting down, opening and closing at the behest of the government orders, earning the trust of customers and keeping her employees safe. She reduced her staff by 95% and began using popular delivery apps, which came with a high premium, to get food to customers. The loss of revenue was staggering, but the bills kept coming in. She struggled as she watched businesses around her receive federal grants to stay afloat.
“It was so challenging and exhausting,” Olson recalled. “I thought, ‘I cannot die in this battle. I need to win it. I need to survive.’ Every day we got calls and emails that said we were overdue on bills. I was actively looking for help. A lot of businesses of immigrants and business of color didn’t get any free money, and it was really upsetting.”
In June of 2020, Olson received a Muskegon County Recovery Loan from GROW. The loan product was a collaboration between GROW and the Community Foundation for Muskegon County, designed to help businesses struggling due to COVID-19.
“The money gave us peace of mind,” Olson said. “We were at rock bottom, and when we got the loan, we were so grateful … Because of GROW, I was able to secure funding and improve my business in these uncertain times.”
Today, Los Amigos is open for dine-in and Olson’s staff is back to work. She continues to utilize her business as a means to bridge cultures. She is offering a Tequila Masters Class throughout the summer, in which participants sample various tequilas while learning the history and cultivation around the spirit that defines Mexico around the world.
“I am here to give you food, educate you and earn your business,” Olson smiled.
If you are business located in Muskegon County, please click here to learn more about our Muskegon County Fast Forward Loan.