A week after the grand opening of the Top of the Kress, a new blues club housed in a historic building in downtown Yuma, Frank Ruiz is still pretty much like a kid on Christmas as he shows off the bells and whistles to a visitor.
“All the audio and video equipment is state of the art — the most high-tech that Yuma’s ever seen,” Ruiz beams. “There are high-def screens and great speakers so you can see and hear the show from anywhere in the club, and up on the rooftop, too.”
A tour of the club — interrupted to accept a furniture delivery and welcome the band that’s due to play that evening — shows that the former garment industry executive has taken to his new role as if it were tailor-made.
“We’re offering live entertainment all week, with local groups weeknights and bands from San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas and Los Angeles on the weekends,” Ruiz continued. “And we have an amazing banquet room and DJ, both for weddings and parties.”
The best part? Ruiz thinks for a minute.
“It’s great to be able to realize your vision and creativity and make it attractive and elegant. We want to liven up Main Street. Once we get on our feet, we want to open another place, where we’ll feature classic rock."
Ruiz concluded: “I feel like this is my dream but that I did it for Yuma, too. I hope that the community will come discover what we’ve done and feel like it’s their own, and will take good care of it.”
For his efforts, Ruiz was recently honored by the Arizona Business Development Center as one of two Yuma County Success Award winners.
Q: Are you from Yuma?
A: No, I was born and grew up in the San Gabriel Valley – Pasadena and Alhambra.
Q: So what brought you here?
A: In a past life, I owned a garment company and did all the costumes for Disneyland and a couple of Super Bowl shows, plus sports team cheerleaders like the Lakerettes. What brought me to Yuma (in 1990) was I had a contract with Guess Jeans and opened a maquiladora in San Luis Rio Colorado to make jeans. After six years, I was getting burned out and asked my partners to buy me out.
But I liked Yuma and when I heard that Waxie (a janitorial supply company) was going to pull out because they thought the market was too small, I bought them out. My company — Desert Best Distributing LLC — expanded from janitorial supplies and paper products to all kinds of bar and food service supplies — everything a bar needs but the alcohol.
Q: How did you get involved in Top of the Kress?
A: I bought the building about two years ago. For years — really since the ’70s when I was a drummer in a band — I wanted to open a club, and this place just seemed perfect.
Q: It seems like it’s been “under construction” forever. What took so long?
A: The former owner reinforced the building to meet modern earthquake codes, but we decided to completely gut out the interior and really start from scratch. For example, we took out the center columns for more unobstructed floor space, and we had to do more structural work to the lounge on the rooftop. It wasn’t that we ran into anything unexpected, it just took time to make it the way we wanted it to be. City officials were actually very helpful.
Q: It’s a tough time to open. Any secrets for success?
A: My philosophy is that even if the economy is down, people still like to have fun. Since we’ve opened, we’ve been really busy and people are really excited, like “we can’t believe its finally here.”
Q: Do you have hot plans for surviving the summer?
A: We’re not relying on winter visitors to make this business a success — our main focus is the people who live here. Of course, we also hope to reach out to the Imperial Valley and draw in the people from San Diego who come here to go to the river, too.
Q: If it weren’t this, what would your “dream job” be?
A: Oh, this is it — what I’ve always wanted to do.
Q: What’s your favorite part of the business?
A: Booking the entertainment. I think I have an excellent ear for talent.
Q: What job would you be happiest to get rid of?
A: I’m happy to be out of the garment industry, that really wore me out. Twenty years was enough — no more.
Q: What’s the most important quality to succeed as an entrepreneur?
A: Research and knowledge about your competition. Preparation is the key, you don’t just get an idea and open.
Q: What keeps you sane when everything goes wrong?
A: I’ve got tough skin.
Q: What’s Yuma’s best-kept secret?
A: Right now, this club — but hopefully not for long.
Q: What would you miss the most if you left Yuma?
A: The people — much friendlier than where I grew up. I love the small-town feeling, which doesn’t seem to change even as the city has grown.
Q: What’s your own favorite getaway?
A: The beautiful Colorado River between here and Parker. Nothing better than getting out on the boat and leaving your cell phone behind.
Q: Favorite Yuma restaurant? Favorite meal?
A: Da Boyz, of course — the baked pasta.
Q: Guilty pleasure?
A: I love to dance and sing.
Q: Married? How long?
A: I’ve been married to Jacqueline for six years.
Q: Children? Grandchildren? Pets?
A: We each have a son and a daughter, I have three grandchildren, my wife has six. My son, Mark Ruiz, is the general manager of Top of the Kress. We used to raise German shepherds and still have five of our own.
Q: Thing about you people would be surprised to learn?
A: I guess if I had any big secrets, I wouldn’t tell anyone.
Ann Walker is a writer for the Yuma Visitors Bureau. She can be reached at email@example.com or 376-0100.