Editor's Note: This article is part of a series of stories by the Daily Lobo detailing UNM grads who have started their own businesses.
The lunch rush has come and gone at Chēba Hut. Its employees shuffle around cleaning tables and helping customers. Isaac Montoya is working the register.
As a Pink Floyd song reaches its climax, Montoya finishes inputting a customer’s order, a French Dip sandwich named after a strand of weed, the AK-47. As the customer heads towards his table, he’s wearing a smile he didn’t have when he came in.
Montoya is a graduate of the Anderson School of Management at the University of New Mexico, and the franchise owner of the Albuquerque Chēba Hut.
He greets every customer with that same genuine affection and appreciation — it stems from an optimism and willingness to work hard.
Montoya moved back to Albuquerque in 2012 after his family had moved to Helena, Montana. Montoya graduated from high school in Helena and completed two years at the University of Montana, studying exercise science.
Montoya said he chose to move back to New Mexico for 3 reasons: opportunity in the Duke City, his family’s history in the state and the quality of education at UNM.
While still in school, Montoya became the majority owner of the Albuquerque Chēba Hut in 2013. Going to college was still important to Montoya, but he said, “my main priority was growing a business on the verge of collapsing.”
Montoya believed you didn’t need a degree to accomplish your dreams, but school was the only place he felt he could learn the concepts and theories of management.
Montoya brought up a few classes that he said were important to his development, including Small Business Management and International Management, which were among the most impactful.
In International Management, Montoya remarked how concepts for operating internationally were still useful for running his business.
In 2016, Montoya graduated with his Bachelor of Business Administration, Entrepreneurial Studies.
By then he had started looking at opening a new location on the westside. “It was a continuous hustle and continuous grind,” he said, but “the westside (was) ready for Chēba Hut.”
He said he regretted not being able to attend UNM for his whole college career.
“Nothing against Montana,” he said, but he felt that building friendships and bonds in those first few years was invaluable.
In 2017, New Mexico In depth conducted a survey that found nearly two-thirds of UNM upperclassman planned on leaving the state after graduation — their reason was a lack of opportunity.
Montoya sees things differently. He said he sees Albuquerque as having lots of opportunity for entrepreneurs, citing a lack of competition in many industries.
He said there was no problem Albuquerque could not overcome to become a city comparable to Denver or Phoenix.
The potential for development, Montoya added, had to be met with charity.
“Business owners, especially those of us who grew up (in New Mexico), have a deep responsibility to give back,” Montoya said.
Montoya’s parting advice was, “don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t be afraid to have those sleepless nights. The world, and especially Albuquerque, needs more young leaders that are willing to stay and build.”
Justin Garcia is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted by email at email@example.com or on Twitter @Just516garc.