Carlos Hernandez Jr. inside his restaurant

Carlos Hernandez Jr. was born in Cuba, but his first memories are from a house with a dirt floor that he lived in with his sister and parents in Puerto Rico.

“My father would paint the floor regularly, at least twice a month, with white paint,” he recalls.

Hernandez’s father and mother – both tireless workers who fled Cuba in the ’60s in search of a better place to raise their family – owned and managed multiple restaurants in Puerto Rico. They always found ways to include Hernandez and his sister in the family businesses, even if it was just rolling coins or putting stickers on boxes. They were successful in Puerto Rico – at their peak, they had five pizzerias, a restaurant and a nightclub. However, they ultimately decided there would be more possibilities for their children in the mainland United States.

“I imagine it was hard decision for them to sell that small world they had built for themselves,” Hernandez says. “But they didn’t want to limit us to their world – they wanted to see how far we could go.”

Hernandez says they sold everything they had and, in December of 1978, moved to Miami, Florida, “with a lot of tears.”

Creating a New Family Opportunity

Soon after arriving in Miami, Hernandez’s parents started looking for business opportunities. Meanwhile, Hernandez was learning to do auto body work in school, acquiring skills he quickly put to use after getting his first car. He fixed a couple of his own fender benders and then started fixing his friends’ cars.

“One day, speaking around the dining room at home, I told my father, ‘This might be a business,'” he says.

The family rented a small spot on Eighth Street, where they opened Perfection Paint & Body Shop. From there, they started fixing more of their friends’ cars, “and that evolved into five, 10, 20 cars – it grew from there,” explains Hernandez. “The whole family got involved.”

“Thirty-eight years later, we grew into one of the largest family owned body shops in Miami-Dade County.”

The Hernandez family sold Perfection Paint after running it nearly four decades. Hernandez’s parents retired, but he decided he wasn’t ready for retirement.

A New Island, a New Success Story

After months of searching for his next opportunity, Hernandez purchased Harriette’s Restaurant, a popular diner in Key Largo, Florida. Harriette’s had been a local favorite for more than 30 years when Hernandez bought it, but he and his wife, Suni, immediately jumped in, hitting the ground running with new ideas to take the business even further.

“I saw the potential we had here, being that there was a whole new group of people we hadn’t tapped into, which was our tourism, our younger crowd,” Hernandez says. “So we started approaching the operation a little bit differently.”

They installed free Wi-Fi for customers and implemented a digital ordering system so the servers and kitchen could work more efficiently – a simple move that’s helped them greatly increase the number of customers they serve on their busiest days.

“When we purchased Harriette’s, we would serve, on a busy day, between 350 and 400 people,” Hernandez says. “We’ve been able to multiply that by three. On our typical weekend day now, we serve about 1,500 people from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

“Harriette’s was ranked on the top 10 of Yelp and TripAdvisor® when we purchased it,” he adds. “Shortly after that, we had gone from No. 7 or No. 8 in the rankings to No. 1.”

Small Restaurant, Big Muffins

Still, Hernandez’s ambitions go beyond just serving customers inside the restaurant. He quickly realized the key lime muffins were their staple – what people thought of when they thought of Harriette’s.

“We have clients who make trips to the Keys, not only to go to the Keys, but they buy two or three dozen muffins at a time so they can take them back home,” he says.

Seeing the potential for even more opportunity, Hernandez ensured he and his wife learned all the recipes. “They had 17 recipes for muffins,” he says. “And they were all handwritten.”

Since then, they’ve added at least a dozen new muffin recipes to the menu at Harriette’s, and his wife has “become quite the baker.”

But they haven’t stopped there. Hernandez has also started working on plans to expand Harriette’s and open a standalone bakery capable of a higher production volume with goals of distribution.

“Just so we can do our muffins and biscuits and pies,” he says. “We plan to open an online store so we can then distribute these muffins throughout, hopefully, all 50 states.”

From 1,500 Square Feet to 15,000

The Hernandez family has come a long way from their home in Puerto Rico with the painted dirt floor. When Hernandez met his wife, Suni, he said they shared a dream with each another.

“I told her I wanted to have this big house where our children would be able to play and each have their own room,” he says. “We looked for a long time for a piece of property where we could build this home.”

After several years of searching, they found the property. And a couple years later, they saved enough to start building.

“We built that home literally brick by brick,” he says. “After about 3½ years of putting in little grains of salt, we built this home. And we went from living in a 1,500-square-foot townhouse – sometimes it doesn’t seem real – but to a 15,000-square-foot home on five acres that we’re very proud of. I remember the first day. We all slept together in the same room – we wanted to be together that first night.”

Carlos Hernandez Jr. standing with his father, mother, and wifeMaking It About Family

For Hernandez, family is key to everything.

“Family is the first step toward a successful business,” he says. “If you make it feel like family, it’s not work anymore. It gives you satisfaction to have people feel part of a family that you’re growing. So your family grows as your business grows.”

Hernandez hopes to pass this mindset on to future generations.

“It gets a little sentimental,” he says. “I hope (my parents) know all their work and everything they invested in my sister and me has paid off. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I do today were it not for those lessons I had from a very early age.

“I hope they have seen that I’ve been able to pass it on to my children and, one day, grandchildren. That is the best tribute I can pay my parents – to let them know that, ‘Hey, I got this now. You had me – I got them now.'”

The Hernandez family Wealth advisor is Haivyl Lopez.

Clients pictured have provided written consent to appear. This does not indicate an endorsement for the financial advisor or refer to the client’s favorable investment experience with the advisor.

Yelp is a trademark of Yelp, Inc. TripAdvisor is a trademark of TripAdvisor, LLC.