UTEP column: UTEP alumni-owned businesses boost local economy

By on November 22, 2014

Editor’s note: The following is part of a weekly series commemorating the University of Texas at El Paso’s Centennial Celebration in 2014.

The El Paso economy would not be the same without The University of Texas at El Paso. Since its establishment 100 years ago, the University has contributed significantly to the local workforce by educating and graduating students with critical skills and training.

Today, there is a substantial UTEP presence in the workforce: 57 percent of graduating students opt to remain in El Paso County for at least one year after finishing their degrees, according to a 2013 study by Economic Modeling Specialists International.

Some of these alumni choose to be their own boss, creating new businesses that thrive and become flagship establishments on the Southwest border.

Gerald Rubin, a 1965 Texas Western College alumnus, is one of those independent entrepreneurs. Despite the humble beginnings of his wig store in downtown El Paso, Rubin’s store had 40 locations along the border just seven years after he graduated.

Now, it is a $1.3 billion Fortune 500 Company that employs 500 El Pasoans. Known as Helen of Troy, the company manufactures and sells brand name beauty supplies across the globe.

Yazbik Daw attended TWC only a few years earlier than Rubin and also went on to achieve success. In 1951 he started the small retail showroom S.O.S. TV and Appliance on East Yandell Street.

“I think he wanted to do his own thing,” said Yazbik’s son Mark Daw, who followed in his father’s footsteps by attending UTEP. “He always had an entrepreneurial spirit.”

With the rise of color television, the company boomed and went on to create several branches in town. At one point, it was the largest TV and appliance dealership in El Paso. Though Yazbik Daw never officially graduated from the University, Mark Daw said that didn’t stop his father from becoming a dedicated Miner fan and encouraging his family to pursue an advanced education.

“He liked to attend all the football and basketball games to support the local university and people in hopes that they would turn around and support him,” Mark Daw said. “Now, all eight of his children have degrees from UTEP, and some of his grandchildren, too.”

The family-owned and operated company is currently known as DAW’s Home Furnishings. It is run by Mark and his brother and sister, Wade Daw and Teresa Daw Hicks; each are UTEP College of Business Administration alumni.

Several distinctive local restaurants also are products of UTEP alumni.

Crave, the restaurant topping What’s Up Magazine’s 2014 list for “Best Sure-Bet For Good Food (Every Time)” and “Best Local Burger” was started by Octavio Gomez, who has an economics degree from UTEP. The same alumnus is responsible for several other hip El Paso establishments, including The Garden, The Mix and the 1914 Lounge.

Raul Gonzalez, who earned a finance degree from the University, started Rulis’ International Kitchen after finishing school. The popular gourmet dive bar specializes in new American cuisine, adding unique flavors and variations to classic foods like pizza and wings.

“People always tell me when they come into my restaurant that they think they’re not in El Paso anymore,” said Gonzalez, who has been cooking since he was 15.

Though Gonzalez has always loved to cook, he realized early on that passion wasn’t enough to start a successful business, which is why he enrolled at UTEP.

“Everyone thinks that restaurants are so much fun and they forget that it’s a business, too,” he said. “You really need to have a good plan before you do something like this.”

UTEP, he said, gave him a strong foundation in finance, marketing and management to carry out his dream.

Mark Daw also applied what he learned at the university to his local business.

“My degree has helped me quite a bit, particularly by teaching me about promotion and marketing,” he said. “It taught me how to encourage locals to come to us instead of going to other big stores in town.”

Nadia Whitehead is a writer for UTEP’s University Communications office.

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Nadia M. Whitehead is a former writer for UTEP's University Communications office.