Vibhu Sethi immigrated to the U.S. from India in 1999 and moved to Northern Virginia after going to school in Boston.
“I’ve worked in restaurants my whole life — I went to Johnson and Wales University and got my master’s degree in restaurant management,” he said.
Sethi settled in the area for a job with Chicken Out, a popular chain at the time, but eventually moved on to work as a general manager at a Woodbridge Applebee’s. By then, he was ready for something more.
“I was working 65-70 hours a week — working a lot of nights. At times, I wouldn’t get home until 4 o’clock in the morning,” he said. “I just found the rewards and the salary didn’t match the effort I was putting in.
At that point, California Tortilla was looking for a new owner for the Sudley Road restaurant. Sethi maxed out his credit cards and joined the world of Mexican-inspired fast-casual dining. In two years, he paid off the debt and has now owned the business for eight years.
“Owning and managing are completely different, but, honestly, all the surprises of restaurant ownership were good surprises,” Sethi said. “Even when you’re working more, it doesn’t feel like work.”
He’s got some employees that have been with him for eight years.
“What makes our location stand out is the level of customer service — caring about people. We’ll recognize people’s cars in the parking lot and start making their meal.”
Sethi works nights at the store and will often visit with diners. “People are surprised. Nobody expects someone to come check on them,” he said.
In promotional videos for the company a few years ago, Sethi talked about dreams of a second franchise location. He keeps his eye out for opportunities, but he’s taken a different route to grow his partnership with the company. Sethi now spends most days working as a franchise consultant for California Tortilla, working with new owners across the country by offering advice from his success in Manassas.
Sethi loves his community in Haymarket and the schools in the area as he raises his two children.
“There’s so much to do,” he said. “You’re still close to the D.C. metro area, but you’re away from the hustle and bustle when you want to be.”