TUSCALOOSA / BIRMINGHAM – Oct. 18, 2016 – Pursuing his high school sweetheart to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, had more allure for Jheovanny Gomez Zuluaga than pursuing drug cartel members as an undercover intelligence operative or going to college in his native Colombia. In 1999, two years after she moved, he moved and started college in Alabama while working as a busboy in the same restaurant his girlfriend’s parents worked. A year later he and his girlfriend became husband and wife, and, by 2001, he became a partner in a restaurant in downtown Tuscaloosa. Today, along with his partners Wayne and Justin Grimball, Gomez owns three restaurants in Tuscaloosa, Northport and Cottondale.
Gomez personifies the American dream. “His story is unique, but his success speaks for itself,” said Jim Page, president and chief executive officer of the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama, which named Gomez as its 2013 Member of the Year. That success earned Gomez and Jalapeños Mexican Restaurants the title of Alabama’s 2016 Gold Retailer of the Year Award in the Annual Sales $1 Million to $5 Million category. The Alabama Retail Association, in cooperation with the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Collat School of Business, honored Gomez today at the Alabama Retail Day luncheon in Birmingham. Terrance G. “Terry” Finley, president and chief executive officer of Alabama-based Books-A-Million Inc., gave the keynote address.
“Jheovanny sets the standard among the local business community as far as paying his civic rent, as far as being engaged and by leading by example. He is a role model for people who have been in business a lot longer than he has by the way he puts Jalapeños out there as being part of the community,” Page said of Gomez, who leads by example as a member of the Alabama Small Business Commission.
The Alabama Retailer of the Year judges noted Gomez’s strong support from his community, evidenced by letters of recommendation from the mayors of Tuscaloosa and Northport as well as the Boys and Girls Clubs of West Alabama. Gomez and Jalapeños were the only Retailer of the Year finalists to receive a unanimous vote on the first ballot by the panel of independent judges.
“Ever since we opened this business, started meeting people and making friends, this community as a whole surrounded us and supported the business and my family,” Gomez said.
One way Gomez gives back to his community is by talking to students who are a part of the Junior Achievement League and career technical education programs in Tuscaloosa County, especially young entrepreneurs. “I tell them, ‘If you surround yourself with good people; if you really think that you can have your own business, you will have it,” Gomez said.
He credits his work ethic to his parents, Luis and Fabiola, who still live in Colombia, but were in Tuscaloosa on a rare visit the day Alabama Retail interviewed Gomez. “All of my values, motivation and strength come from my parents,” he said.
Jalapeño’s Mexican Restaurants, an Alabama Retail member since 2007, was one of 13 retail businesses honored at today’s luncheon. This year’s winners came from a pool of more than 70 nominees. The Alabama Retailer of the Year awards program, started in 1999, honors outstanding retailers who have demonstrated growth, innovation and a commitment to their respective communities.
“Jheovanny Gomez is a retailer of the year EVERY year to the Jalapeños Mexican Restaurants customers, its 73 employees and the three communities it serves,” said Alabama Retail Association President Rick Brown.
The Alabama Retail Association represents retailers, the largest private employer in the state of Alabama, before the Alabama Legislature and the U.S. Congress. Through sales of food, clothing, furniture, medicine and more, our 4,100 independent merchant and national company members touch almost every aspect of daily living. Since 1943, we’ve worked to promote what’s best for the retail industry in Alabama. Whether voicing the retail view when public policy is made, educating members about issues that impact them, negotiating rates for benefits and services or communicating the retail story, the Alabama Retail Association and its members are better together.