|Dos Amigos remains a Cotati institution
Other Mexican restaurants have come and gone, but Miguel Perezís place has survived and thrived
Amongst a city of constantly changing storefronts, empty buildings and “going out of business” sales, the green-trimmed whitewashed Dos Amigos restaurant tucked behind La Plaza Park in Cotati has somehow remained resilient.
Born in Mexico, Miguel Perez moved to the United States with his family at the age of six, then to Sonoma County 15 years ago where he first opened Dos Amigos with a business partner in June of 1998.
“I enjoy working with people – meeting people. That’s the main reason I enjoy my work,” says Perez.
Locals keep coming back
The patrons vary – from mayors of San Francisco to tourists stopping off the 101 – but the main clientele is usually locals stopping in for a warm plate of authentic Mexican food in a familiar setting.
Perez has owned the place since his business partner left four years after the opening and assembled the original team. The menu has changed little since those first months.
The idea was fueled simply by his wish to work his own hours and provide a living with his new wife at the time. Having worked in food service when he was younger, Perez was confident with the knowledge he acquired through the years.
“If it’s a busy pace, you kind of understand why it’s busy,” he explains. “If you hear about a place that isn’t busy, and you go, you immediately understand why.”
That is the trouble with running a restaurant, in his opinion. Once customers have a bad experience somewhere, they do not often return. Reputation is everything and something Perez makes no qualms working to develop.
“You could go far up on a hill, but as long as you have a positive reputation, people will still go up there,” he says of his downtown locale. “Part of it is location, but if you don’t do a really good job, people still won’t come, even if you have the best spot.”
Still the same while others change
So while similar Mexican restaurants such as Rafa’s and Los Guitarras have changed owners or moved, Dos Amigos has continued to thrive in the strong roots it has grown here. Perez tries not to let a stumbling economy bother him, although he does notice a decline in regular customers when the city experiences a closure, the Rancho Adobe Fire Department, for example.
The original owner of Rafa’s (Rafael Gonzalez) in downtown Cotati actually served as an inspiration to Perez, as he’d often visit and notice that he was in the back cooking food alongside his cooks, a skill he believes is what makes a responsible owner.
“That’s one reason I’ve survived. If you own a restaurant, you need to now how to cook,” he says. “If your cook doesn’t show, or he needs assistance and you don’t know how – that’s how a lot of people go out of business.”
Another cause of a failed business? Overwhelming maintenance costs. With food service being such a delicate industry and with it relying on so many outside sources, it is very possible for one piece of the machine to be broken for the entire operation to fall apart. That is why Perez stays self-sufficient, serving, cooking and being a handyman to his own building.
A father to a 13-year-old daughter and a nine-month-old son, although Perez’s wife often helps him in the kitchen of Dos Amigos, he is unsure yet whether he would consider passing his legacy down to his children.
He speaks of Dos Amigos, however, as though it is one of them.
“Stay dedicated – its something you’ve created,” he says passionately. “You’re the designer and it’ll never be the same if someone else does it. To stay alive – dedication is the key.”