Chef José Mota brings a love of seafood and dedication to customer service to his catering business, Mota’s Best.
Of course, the Mexico native creates gourmet Hispanic dishes, but he also loves French cooking. Although he has no culinary school training, he learned by working with some of the most skillful U.S. and international chefs.
Mota was born in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit between Puerto Vallarta and Mazatlan.
“[It’s] tropical, so I like to work with seafood because we have a lot of seafood in that area,” he said.
Mota moved to Southern California in 1984, where he worked at high-end restaurants and met Dominique Chavanon, future owner of Marigold Café. After Chavanon and his wife Elaine opened the café, Mota moved here to work as their sous chef. He later served as executive chef at Liberty Heights retirement community.
A few years ago, Mota decided to open his own business and started Mota’s Best with the help of his wife Elizabeth, an accountant who serves on the board of directors of the Colorado Springs Hispanic Business Council. He works out of a commercial kitchen in northeast Colorado Springs. He also works part-time with Ranch Foods Direct, doing sales and meat cutting between catering jobs.
Mota has received numerous accolades over the years, but he is especially proud of his placement at the 9th Annual Chef Showcase, a fundraiser for Rocky Mountain Health Care Services, held May 16 at the Hotel Eleganté.
“It was a lot of talented chefs,” he said, “and I was pleased to win second place.”
Mota spoke with the Business Journal about his journey as a chef and his personal recipe for small-business success.
How did you get your start? Were your parents in the food industry?
No, but my oldest brother, he was, and I followed him. I find it really interesting and it’s a passion for cooking. I love working with my hands and entertaining people and creating new dishes.
How did you learn to be a gourmet chef?
I trained a little bit in Mexico with different chefs. But when I really started was when I moved from Mexico to California, and I started working in different kitchens. I learned a lot of dishes from different chefs from different parts of the world. We used to get them — like [French chef] Paul Bocuse came a couple times. So I trained with a lot of the French cuisine. My experience has been always in the field, hands-on with different chefs. I trained a lot of people that came from the schools.
I worked for several years in California, from 1984 to 1993 at different hotels and fancy restaurants in Beverly Hills. I worked at a place called Antoine’s; it’s French cuisine in Newport Beach, Calif. It’s inside the Meridian Hotel.
In 1993 I moved to Colorado Springs with a friend of mine, Dominique Chavanon, the owner of Marigold Café, and I was pleased to work with him as a sous chef. I worked there 1993 to 1998. My last big job, I was the executive chef for Liberty Heights retirement community. I did that 18 years, from 1998 to 2016. I love working with senior citizens.
And then you started your business? Why did you decide you wanted to do that?
I took a little break, and then we started a part-time catering business. I was working for corporations, you know, for so many years, and I wanted to do something to impact the community. And this is my passion, and I want to be more creative to create different dishes, because I believe I have a talent and I wanted to use it to serve the community of Colorado Springs.
Tell us a little bit about what you do.
I do a lot of different entertainments and weddings and quinceañeras, and a lot of different office lunches and different functions. A lot of funerals. I made food for the funerals, for the receptions after the memorial service.
I specialize in gourmet food, and also I do Hispanic food. We try to accommodate whatever our customers desire. I do a lot of the Hispanic dishes, enchiladas, tamales and carne asada. So my most famous are the enchiladas, tamales and chile rellenos and fresh salsa.
What did it take to get your business started?
It takes a lot of energy and a lot of money. It takes a lot of courage, because it’s a lot of competition out there. In the early days, it’s not too many companies, but now, every restaurant does the catering, so you have to be competitive to the prices and you have to create different dishes to stay in business.
How did you get the financing for your company?
We saved a little bit at a time, and when we were ready, a couple of friends of mine, they helped me a little bit with finances.
How did you get your first client?
It was a friend of mine that his daughter was getting ready to get married, so they asked me if I can do the wedding for them. Then referrals and so many contacts that wanted to hire me to do the weddings or whatever occasion they were doing. So that’s how I started my business — word of mouth, you know, just people who tried my food and they liked the things we created.
Did your business grow pretty quickly?
It did, but I don’t want it to grow that big. I just want to stay small and do a good service to the community, because I want to create dishes that people are happy with. And when you grow up big, it’s really hard to keep the quality control, the creation and uniqueness. I take a lot of pride in my work, and I just never want to get too big. I want to be able to just do a good job.
How many employees do you have?
I don’t have employees. It’s a family-owned business. My wife helps me; my son, my daughters. My wife, she’s an accountant, so a lot of things, she guides me. She takes care of the books; she takes care of the advertising. If I need somebody, I contract a few people, but most of the time we do it ourselves. In the future, I’m planning more employees for sure. I can’t do everything myself.
Did you talk to any other business owners before you started your business?
Yes, I did talk with several people. I was kind of skeptical about wanting to do my own business. It’s hard to be successful, especially when you have a family and you don’t have a whole lot of capital. At the time I had six kids to provide for, but sometimes you just have to go for it. It was always my desire to have my own business, but I was kind of a little scared to go into business. When you work for a corporation, you’re always going to get paid, even if it’s busy or not busy. When you have your own business, you have to hustle to make the money and get the customers.
So I talked to several people and they encouraged me and they told me it is not going to be easy, but it’s possible. It was good encouragement.
Where would you like to see your business go from here?
We want to see if we can take it to the next level, so people can see us not only as Hispanics, but to grow a business to the next level. I’d like to see if we can take it to the next level and for the community to know us more.
Do you ever dream about opening a restaurant?
Yes, people ask me that a lot. And that’s one of the desires, that I will open a restaurant in the near future.
Is that something that’s in the works?
Yes, it is, but it’s going to take at least two years. And it’s a lot of competition, so I’m praying about it and if the Lord opens the door, we will jump into it. …You have to create something different. And so I’m working and we’ll see what happens in the next two years.
What kind of restaurant do you envision?
We need to come up with something more creative — dishes that are healthy for the community. This is one of my passions. I like to do a lot of natural food, you know, and I don’t want to be another fast-food [place]. So this is the vision that I have — create a lot of dishes healthy for the mind and for the soul. I like to do Mediterranean, California style and also Mexican dishes, Hispanic dishes, but more creative and not just, you know, saturated with grease — something that you feel good about eating.
What would you say to someone who might be thinking about starting their own business, but feeling like you did, being a little scared to make that leap?
What I say is, if you have a passion for something that you like, go for it, because it’s not going to be easy, but if you work hard and you are consistent and persistent, you’ll be successful. Just talk to people and ask what does it take to start a business. The opportunities are there, you know, you just have to ask and you will find the answers.