How Linda Alvarado went from manual labor to one of America’s richest self-taught women


This Denver mogul has defied convention by smashing the doors of construction, fast food and Major League Baseball. It’s a far cry from his family’s two-room adobe house with no interior plumbing.

THEinda Alvarado walks, politician-like, to her seat at the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star Game, stopping to kiss or chat with everyone from Roy working at the concession stand to the manager Colorado Rockies financier Hal Roth. As a pre-game tribute to Hank Aaron begins, she posts on her phone a photo of herself with the late Hall of Fame slugger. “Baseball is in my blood,” she says. Dressed in a purple suit that matches the dominant color of the Rockies uniform, Alvarado is more than just another fan. At the behest of then Colorado Governor Roy Romer, she became a member of the team’s original investor group in 1991. Her stake was only 1%, but significant: it was the first Latino owner of the MLB and the first self-taught. female owner. “It wasn’t my husband,” she said. “It was me. My money.”

Since then, Alvarado’s influence and money have only grown. Today, his touch can be seen all over Denver. Its proprietary Alvarado Construction helped build the city’s Mile High Stadium, the arena where the Denver Nuggets play and the Denver International Airport, among other landmarks. He also built most of the 258 Yum! Branded restaurants (Taco Bells, Pizza Huts and KFC) operated by Palo Alto Inc., a franchise company owned 51% by Alvarado and 49% by her husband, Robert. It is the latter company that accounts for the bulk of her $ 230 million fortune, making her one of the 100 richest self-taught women in the country.

Alvarado says she has succeeded by not allowing herself to be distracted by “conventional thinking”. This is what led her to experiment with a series of innovations, including a new Taco Bell design for tight urban spaces that places the kitchen on the second floor, with a conveyor belt system robotic loading and trays. delivering to the lower floor.

Alvarado’s story is anything but conventional. She began life in 1951 as Linda Martinez in a two-room adobe house outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico; there was no running water except when it was flooded every summer. “I thought everyone was going to the Red Cross for the summer vacation,” she jokes.

Alvarado’s parents were builders by nature. Her father, a Protestant pastor from Mexico who worked in security at the Sandia National Laboratory, had built this adobe house himself. Her mother would often recite, almost like a mantra: “Empieza pequeño, pero piensa muy grande (start small, but think big).

Rarer than their urge to immigrate was the Martinez’s determination to spare their daughter from “female” household chores so that she could concentrate on her studies. As the youngest of six siblings and the only girl, Alvarado had to play sports with his brothers. “You have six children, you have a team,” said his father. When a high school coach told Alvarado that girls cannot participate in the high jump, her mother went to school to demand the change. Alvarado won the high jump and the female athlete of the year award, a tribute to her performance in many sports, including softball.

Such physicality led Alvarado to take what turned out to be a crucial step towards a career in construction: While studying economics on a scholarship at Pomona College in California, she rejected the suggestion of an administrator to work in the library or cafeteria and asked to join the field team. instead of. She says she explained her choice this way: “I don’t have to wear those painful girl’s shoes. . . . I’m going to get a tan, and you’ll pay me to work with all these single men. ”

Grounds maintenance experience enabled Alvarado to land a job at a Los Angeles construction management company after graduating in 1973. That, and a little subterfuge, she thinks she got a interview because she only used her initials on the candidacy, disguising her as kind. This is a method she will use later when signing construction bids.

Some members of the all-male construction crews called her “spic chick” and posted crude drawings of a naked Alvarado in porta-pots on site. However, she loved to see a building emerge from the blueprints and decided she had found a career.

She took courses in estimating, surveying and computerized planning and moved to Colorado with her husband (their first date was a Dodgers game). In 1976, at age 24, she started her own business, convinced that her computer skills could give her an advantage. “I was told I was doomed to fail because of the double whammy of being Hispanic and being a woman,” she recalls. “But I thought to myself that in math, when you multiply two negatives, you get a positive.” After six banks refused her a loan, Alvarado’s parents loaned her $ 2,500, without telling her before she repaid them that they had borrowed against their house at an interest rate of 24%. As her mother had preached, she started digging gutters and sidewalks and building bus shelters. Eventually, she got a loan guaranteed by the Small Business Administration. Her great success came in 1983 when Joy Burns, another barrier breaker who founded the Women’s Bank of Colorado, hired her to renovate the 17-story, 80-room Burnsley Hotel in downtown Denver.

A big test came in 1992, when two ironworkers installing a beam fell to their deaths while Alvarado Construction was building an office tower at the Denver airport. As all work came to a halt for an OSHA investigation, Alvarado had to fend off other contractors who were fishing to get back to work. “I had to rebuild my reputation,” she says.

Today, his construction company has offices in Arizona, California, Colorado and New Mexico, and carries out projects for Kaiser Permanente, Xcel Energy and PG&E.

As determined as she was to start a construction business, Alvarado got into fast food almost by accident. In 1984, she was developing a mall in a run down area of ​​Denver and was trying to recruit a branded fast food chain. Taco Bell, then owned by PepsiCo, would not take the risk. But the chain agreed that the Alvarados could open a franchise operation there and Robert was keen to run it. A few years later, when Taco Bell offered to buy it back, the couple refused and asked for other locations instead.

Today, their Palo Alto is the nation’s 28th largest restaurant franchise operator, with $ 325 million in annual revenue primarily from units located in Colorado, New Mexico and California. Old Yum! CEO Greg Creed says Alvarado has earned the respect of fellow franchisees by sharing “the ropes,” from better materials for building units to more attractive LED lighting and drone inspections.

In addition to reducing the time it takes to build new restaurants, the Alvarados tested everything from digital ordering kiosks and dishwashers to entirely new restaurant formats. They built a prototype of the Taco Bell Cantina concept, which sells beer and premium menu items and has televisions for playing sports with the goal of creating a family-friendly place to relax. Alvarado has also built a prototype of a Taco Bell spin-off called Live Más (named after the chain’s marketing slogan, which means “Live More”) and is experimenting with transforming shipping containers into pop-up Taco Bells. .

As far as franchises are concerned, the division of tasks of the Alvarados is clear. Robert ran foodservice operations, although recently their eldest son Rob, a graduate of Cornell School of Hotel and Foodservice and also with an MBA and a law degree, held this position. Alvarado remains responsible for what she knows and loves: buying land and building on it. “I stay away from the four letter words: cook, wash, dust.


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