“It’s tough to find a place in the world with a better climate than here.” You’ll hear that from nearly every expat that lives in Mexico‘s tranquil Lake Chapala region. Restaurant owner Trip Wilmot is no different.
In 2015, Trip opened Trip’s Burger in an open-air food court in Ajijic, a cosmopolitan town set on the north shore of Lake Chapala. Here, his customers can enjoy their meals in daily temperatures between 50 F and 80 F, under bright-blue sky and sunshine.
“Trip’s Burger has been profitable from day one,” says Trip. The restaurant is roughly patterned after the popular California-founded In-N-Out Burger chain, which has a simple menu. Trip’s specializes in three basic items: hamburgers of various sizes, fries, and milkshakes (vanilla and chocolate). Everything is made fresh at the time the order is placed.
“We set out to make the best burgers, fries, and shakes. We have no plans to change our menu,” says Trip. “It’s the old adage: K.I.S.S.—keep it simple, stupid.
“Our focus is on quality, consistency, and cleanliness, and our restaurant appeals to all ranges of the socio-economic scale. Some people can afford to eat here often and, for others, it’s a once-a-month treat. It’s a proven model. I built this for the local Mexican market more than for the expat market. Just 20% of our guests are expats.”
Thanks to the high quality and freshness of the ingredients used, Trip says that they have no competition from the more mainstream fast-food places. With Ajijic as a proven test market, Trip is working with a group of investors—both Mexican and American—to expand the business into a chain of restaurants. “Our goal is to open three new properties in Guadalajara in the next 18 months. Then we’ll see where we are. There are 4-million-plus customers in Guadalajara…so we think that represents a good opportunity for us.”
Today, Trip splits his time between Lake Chapala and a condo he owns in Guadalajara. “It’s the best of both worlds,” he says. “While I love the hustle and bustle of Guadalajara, Ajijic is peaceful…it’s beautiful…and you really get to slow down and enjoy life.”
At age 52, Trip says he’s not ready to slow down completely just yet. “I have built a business that enables me to travel and have the downtime I would like. We are in the expansion phase and that, to me, is the most enjoyable part of any business.”
There are several advantages to being an American business owner in Mexico, Trip says. “The biggest difference is the low barriers of entry in Mexico. And the red tape is nothing compared to opening [a bar/ restaurant] in Los Angeles. To open Trip’s Burger in the States, it would have cost me 10 times as much and there would be 10 times the competition.
“It took just five months from conception to opening our doors. And it cost a limited amount of capital…just $50,000 to get up and running. It would have cost at least $500,000 back in the States. That’s because here, we don’t have to deal with any stringent county board of health or building code requirements.”
Getting certain permits has also proved a much easier task in Mexico. “We do sell beer,” says Trip. “You have to in Mexico. It’s just part of the culture. Here, I got my liquor license in 24 hours and it cost me $200. In the U.S., it would have taken months to get and cost me 100 times as much—upwards of $20,000.”
Would he encourage others to explore business opportunities in Mexico?
“Absolutely,” says Trip. “My advice is to take your time and get to know the market. Then take the skills you’re good at and leverage them. This country is full of opportunities for those that have an entrepreneurial spirit.”
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