Expanding the Dinner Table: How TEDC Helped District Burger Launch Its First Location

Table of Contents:

A Passion for Authentic Flavors that Was Birthed Early
Restaurant Dreams Hand-in-Hand with Challenges
A New Opportunity…and a Helping Hand
Practical, Flexible Funding to Navigate the Ups and Downs
Face Your Fears and Ask for Help

Carlos Lopez, owner of restaurants Dos Bandidos and District Burger, knows the value of finding the right niche in the food industry. His dream to expand his business and serve delicious, locally sourced burgers has led him to a successful launch in Broken Arrow—with the help of nontraditional funding through TEDC Creative Capital.

A Passion for Authentic Flavors that Was Birthed Early

Ask Carlos to trace his love of cooking back to its origins, and like most restaurateurs, he immediately recalls his childhood. While originally from Venezuela, he grew up in the U.S., and most of his friends were of Mexican descent. That meant the meals his friends’ parents served differed from what he typically ate at home.

“There was always food that I’d never seen before. So I would go into the kitchen and ask, ‘Hey, how do you make this? How do you make that?’” After moving to California for a while and then Florida, he soon discovered that so-called Mexican food in the U.S. could be quite different depending on where you live. When he returned to Tulsa, he saw a clear gap in the market.

“There was nothing like the Mexican food I’d grown up on,” he says. “It is completely different in California than here. I wanted to bring some of that.” And that’s where the idea for his first restaurant, Dos Bandidos, was formed.

Restaurant Dreams Hand-in-Hand with Challenges

Before launching his new venture, Carlos earned a finance degree from UCF and worked on a waste-to-energy program with family members. But he’d always loved cooking, so Carlos was all in when his friend was interested in opening a restaurant. Though the partnership eventually fell through, Carlos moved forward with his California-style Mexican restaurant, Dos Bandidos, in 2016. There, he serves many of the same-style recipes he grew up eating at his friends’ houses.

“I ended up opening the restaurant by myself,” he says. While he isn’t afraid of a challenge, he admits he had a huge learning curve to overcome because the person he’d planned to partner with had the restaurant experience. 

“When it came to the first opening, I had no idea what I was getting myself into,” Carlos explains. “I didn’t even know how to turn on the equipment when we first opened. I had to learn everything. I washed dishes, cooked, and served tables myself for six months. I hosted and bartended just so I could learn.”

His efforts paid off, though it was hard work. “Owning a restaurant is a different animal,” Carlos says. “In the food industry, if you mess up, the world will find out about it. It’s tough. You have a lot of employees, and you have to adapt to problems they may have. As you plan, you still have to be ready for people to come in and be served.”

A New Opportunity…and a Helping Hand 

Carlos kept steady despite the struggles of learning the food industry, navigating the pandemic, and figuring out how to successfully manage a business. With Dos Bandidos on solid footing, he then began making moves to launch a second restaurant concept, District Burger. This concept focuses on farm-to-table meals, locally sourced ingredients, and everything made from scratch. He found an ideal location in Broken Arrow’s Rose District. All he needed was the funding.

That’s when he decided to pursue a loan to bring his vision to life. Enter the experienced, caring team at TEDC Creative Capital! Carlos first heard about the community financial organization from friends who recommended he contact them. He found what TEDC had to offer appealing precisely because it wasn’t a big bank focused only on traditional funding. 

“The team at TEDC were very helpful,” Carlos says. “Everybody there is super hands-on. They’re very understanding. Whenever you deal with people like TEDC, you know they are meant to help you out and put you on the right path. It’s a different experience than you get at a big bank. I can literally call them and say, ‘I don’t understand this,’ and they’ll walk me through it. They’re honestly great to work with.” 

Practical, Flexible Financing to Navigate the Ups and Downs 

One thing that stood out to Carlos was TEDC’s ability and willingness to be flexible and work with him in practical ways. When he was busy on-site getting things ready to launch, TEDC team members met him at his place of business for greater convenience. “They came all the way over here, walked me through my application, and helped me sign it,” he notes. “A lot of banks are not going to do that.”

With funding from TEDC, Carlos was able to launch District Burger without the fear of running into cash flow issues from day one. “Financing like this helps you out in every way—with equipment, signage, all that stuff,” he says. “But having some cash left over also gave me peace of mind that we’d be okay for the next couple of months. TEDC’s funding gave me time to properly train my employees and management and to analyze things. It gave me time to really find my space and figure things out.”

As a result, District Burger is going strong—and Carlos is looking toward the future. He’d love to open up another District Burger and create more jobs—a vision he has in common with his friends at TEDC, who are dedicated to fostering community economic growth. 

“I think that’s cool,” Carlos says. “It shows you that they’re really focused on the health of Tulsa. And that’s what we’re here for. We create jobs.”

Face Your Fears and Ask for Help

“I learned through the years how to listen to customers and how to provide for them,” he says. “Now, we have all kinds of different beefs on District Burger’s menu, and there’s something for everybody. That’s been the true learning curve—not just to open good businesses, but learning how to adapt. It’s been a tough ride at times, but I’m really happy with all the growth I’ve seen because I think we’ve done a great job.”

Beyond that, if Carlos had one piece of advice to give fellow business owners, it would be to face your fears and ask for help, especially when you work with the team at TEDC. 

“I think my biggest piece of advice that I would give anybody looking into a loan with TEDC is, don’t be afraid to ask,” he says. “Some entrepreneurs feel like if you need to ask, that disqualifies you from whatever you’re trying to do. Thankfully, I’ve always had the mentality of, ‘I don’t care, I’m asking.’ But don’t be afraid to call up TEDC and say, ‘I’m looking to do this.’ Just call and ask. They’ll be glad to help.”

TEDC Creative Capital is a community development financial institution (CDFI) that serves start-ups and growing businesses across Oklahoma. With a host of flexible, non-traditional capital and funding vehicles and strong entrepreneurial educational programs, TEDC helps local business owners gain the essential financial and educational support they need to make their small businesses successful additions to their local economies. Learn more about how TEDC’s knowledgeable, helpful team can assist you in attaining your small business goals.