Wife takes over Mi Casita
Sopris Sun Correspondent
Local businessman Federico Peña, who has forged the beginnings of a small commercial empire in Carbondale, set his sights on becoming an aircraft pilot early in his life.
But once he’d accomplished that goal, he said in a recent interview with The Sopris Sun, he realized he had other ambitions in life that had nothing to do with ferrying bankers around in private jets, which was what he was doing for several years after earning his wings.
Peña, 37, (known around town as “Kiko”) is the new owner of Sopris Liquor and Wine at 1026 Highway 133, which bills itself as one of the largest liquor stores in the Roaring Fork Valley.
He also, until recently, was the owner of Mi Casita restaurant, 580 Main St., which currently is owned by his wife, Graciela.
The Peñas have lived in Carbondale since buying the restaurant in 2006. They have two children, Kiko, Jr. , 6, and Alexa Grace, 3.
Originally from Laredo, Texas, Kiko attended college at St. Edwards University in Austin on a three-year basketball scholarship before heading to Vero Beach, Florida, to fulfill his ambition to become a pilot.
Graduating from the Flight Safety International school in 1999, he returned to Texas to take a job with a regional banking company for the next eight years, occasionally taking time off for ski trips in Aspen, which convinced him he might want to come to the Roaring Fork Valley to live.
“I loved flying, but I didn’t like the hours,” he said, explaining that his schedule was irregular, at best, and it kept him away from his family for periods of time.
“Being away from home so much was hard on the marriage,” he continued, so when he learned that Mi Casita was for sale, “I said, let’s go try this.”
Graciela, who had been working as a kindergarten teacher in Texas, switched to restaurant management and the couple settled down to the task of raising their kids and working together non-stop.
“So, we went from never seeing each other to being with each other all the time,” Kiko said with a chuckle. “I got to really know who I was married to.”
After eight years of restaurant work, Kiko said, “I knew I was going to have to do something else,” at first thinking he would buy or open up another restaurant.
But by then he had become friends with another Carbondale businessman, Terry Kirk, owner of the shopping complex that houses Sopris Liquors and Wine, and had taken a couple of trips to Mexico with Kirk to check out the tequila industry there.
“We became really good friends,” he said, and in 2013 the two of them came up with the plan for Kiko to buy the business from Kirk after an earlier owner went bankrupt and Kirk could find no one to take it over.
In the meantime, Kirk, who ran the liquor store himself for a while, had begun having regular wine tastings with his sommelier, Johnny Ivansco.
“He did a really good job,” Kiko said of the wine tastings, noting that the store had become “a wine destination for the valley. That’s why I bought it.”
The new enterprise meant that Kiko went from being at the restaurant practically all the time to operating a store with a hard-working staff (who stayed on after the transfer of the business) and an established clientele.
Though he knew something of the liquor industry from his contact with salesman visiting the restaurant, he knew little about the business.
“It was kind of a thrown-into-the-fire kind of thing,” he said with a grin.
But his staff — general manager Joe Marshall, beer manager Brock Tillotson and Ivansco — was there to “show me the ropes” and things have gone well, he said. He has 13 employees, mostly full time, and he already is looking forward to making a few changes.
“This year it’s going to be something different,” he said. “We’re going to have cocktail tastings.”
The staff will choose a theme for the tastings, make up batches for customers to taste, and then teach the customers how to make the same drinks for themselves.
He mentioned mint juleps (made with bourbon) and mai tais (made with rum) as examples of the kinds of drinks he plans to specialize in for the tastings, and noted that he is open to other ways of “getting creative” to expand the business.
“I’m relying a lot on my team,” he said. “We have meetings to talk about the next step.”
He emphasized that he is very happy with the move to buy the store, explaining, “I’m more of a public relations businessman than a chef. I’m more of a Carbondale person than a restaurant person or a liquor person. I just really do love Carbondale. I’m in the Carbondale business. I believe in the town.”
And he’s open to other options, other choices in the future.
“I don’t know how long it’ll be ‘til the next business venture hits you in the face when you’re not looking,” he declared.