Pablo Vega, 29, came to Buffalo from Brooklyn with his Ecuadorian mother and Puerto Rican father when he was 3. His father worked for a local dry cleaning company and, when the owner passed away in 2003, he took over.
Vega began working at his family's dry cleaning business, Vega's Exclusive Dry Cleaners, as a teenager and had planned to complete a computer engineering degree. When his own father passed away, Vega found himself back in the family business.
"I was the only person who had the license to operate the machine so it was kind of up to me to decide if I wanted to take over," said Vega, who graduated from McKinley High School and studied computer technology at Erie Community College.
Now, with his mom running the dry cleaning stores and his younger brothers helping out, he's embarking on his next business adventure – as a 7-Eleven convenience store franchisee.
Q: How did you end up with a 7-Eleven store?
A: I have an uncle and aunt that live maybe two blocks from there and they had a sign up on the wall: "You can franchise this store." ... I'm the type of person, if there's something I'm interested in, I really go for it. So I called them up.
Q: How did you swing the upfront costs?
A: I had saved funds from the dry cleaning business because it's been five years since I took over. I also own some property, two apartment buildings, and used that as collateral for a commercial loan. And 7-Eleven financed a certain percentage.
Q: What has the learning curve been like?
A: When I got into the dry cleaner, I didn't know anything, so it was a lot harder. With 7-Eleven, they show you how to run the store and do inventory; those aspects as far as ordering your products, showcasing it, promoting it. They give you a lot of tools to actually understand the concepts. We were in a training store in West Seneca, which 90 percent of the time was all hands on.
Q: What's the craziest container you've seen on Bring Your Own Cup Day?
A: Somebody brought in their personal gallon milk container, cut off the top and filled up with that.
Q: What is Free Slurpee Day like from your side of the counter?
A: It's like an event. You hear people talk about it for days before. People come in and get prepared. "What time's a good time to come in? What flavors are you going to have? Are you going to have enough for all of us?" There are lines out the door. The crazy part is you think it's just a lot of children that are there, but it's a good amount of adults.
Q: How do you deal with nasty customers?
A: I know people go through a lot of stuff. They have their good and their bad days. I never let it affect me. I tell my employees the same thing. People have their ups and downs.
I give back. I have a lot of customers that come in, I offer them free drinks, something small. I give out coupons here and there. I haven't had any hard times with customers. There's a lot of regulars and they're just happy for me to be there and to see someone from Buffalo in the store.
Q: How many hours are you actually in the store?
A: Between the 50s and the 60s. I could do regular 40-hour weeks, but I enjoy being there. There's still so much for me to learn so I spend a lot of time. Sometimes I just go and sit in the office and go over reports, or I'll just stand in the lobby and talk to customers.
Q: Do you find yourself eating more snack foods now that you're surrounded by them all day?
A: I need to go back to the gym, that's all I have to say.
Q: What's the best part of this line of work?
A: The best is definitely the customers. I have people who come in and tell me their life story and their day at work and I feel like I'm part of that. Some of them consider us family. I have employees that have been there since the Wilson Farms days and to imagine them seeing the regulars that long, to me that's the most amazing part of it.
Q: What does your mom think of what you've accomplished?
A: My mom, she's so proud of me. There isn't a day she doesn't randomly come up to me and hug me. She knows I've always been a hard worker. I told her I was gonna get a 7-Eleven and she didn't even question it. She was like, "I already know you're gonna do it." I look up to her, too, coming from another country. She didn't have anything and she worked her way up.
Q: What's next for you?
A: Hopefully next year, I'd like to get into a couple more 7-Eleven stores and just keep branching out. I do own a couple apartment buildings and with Buffalo on the rise I'd like to keep going with the real estate and just keep movin' on up.