Women in Business: Audra de Vera, Chronic Tacos Corona

04/30/2015 09:38 am ET | Updated Jun 30, 2015

Audra de Vera (nee Carrington) took over ownership of Chronic Tacos in Corona, CA, on April 2014. As an owner of Chronic Tacos Corona, Audra strengthened the staff and hospitality mission of the taco and bar establishment. Audra identified opportunities for operational improvement and focused on making changes instrumental to its current success.

As a child born to two respected Los Angeles Police Department Officers, Audra was no stranger to hard work and dedication. Her upbringing has resulted in a distinct hard-line approach to life's challenges.

An avid bicyclist and mother of two, Audra likes to spend time with daughters, Vida (2 ½ years) and Ameri (6 months). When the baby sitter is available, she enjoys craft beers and exploring local cuisine with her husband.

Prior to becoming a Chronic Taco franchisee, Audra studied International Security and Conflict Resolution at San Diego State University and served her country as a federal agent for the Office of Inspector General, specializing in investigating complex financial crimes.

How has your previous employment experience aided your tenure at Chronic Tacos?
As a federal agent specializing in investigating complex financial fraud, I approached the restaurant with a focus on attention to detail and providing effective and efficient solutions without compromising the integrity and quality of the operation.

Previous experience coordinating multi-agency law enforcement operations involving hundreds of men and women with various skill sets, has given me the confidence to manage my staff in an environment that fosters good work ethic and quality customer service to all of our customers.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Chronic Tacos?
Well, who would not enjoy walking into work knowing that they played an integral part in building the current success of an establishment? A highlight of this job is being surrounded by low-stress individuals who are motivated, like to work and have fun. Working with such a team is empowering and makes you feel that anything is possible. This in turn makes the job enjoyable.

The greatest challenges come in building motivation and improving team moral. Working and dealing with individuals that aren't running at your pace can be frustrating. This can include both vendors as well as team members. As a team, you are only as good as good as your weakest link.

What advice can you offer to women who want to be a franchisee?
If you believe that gender puts you at a disadvantage, you must change your outlook. As a woman you must be opportunistic of the tactical advantages you have in any situation. In business, we know who controls spending in most households. We know what attracts women to an establishment. In my case, I focused on making the restaurant a family friendly environment. If a woman likes it and can bring her kids, families will follow.

What is the most important lesson you've learned in your career to date?
Believe in yourself enough to take risks! Some bigger establishments, such as government or large corporations may only look out for themselves. Your interests are NOT their interests. So do your homework, believe in your ability to create success, and don't be afraid to be your own boss.

If you enjoy working and require a challenge, but also want to be a mommy who brings her kids to swimming, dance, and play dates, find a way to make it happen!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
For me, it would have been impossible to do without the support of an awesome family, a super nanny, a dependable manager, and an amazing husband.

I was 6 months pregnant when I jumped into Chronic Taco Corona and was working 70-80 hour weeks with a one and a half year old at home. At times my employees worked nanny duty while I met with customers, vendors, and did marketing. My home became my office. One week after my daughter was born, I was back in the restaurant with my baby in a sling. The majority of the customers are familiar with my daughters and husband, and I have seen the place evolve. We now see many more families in there with kids.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
False preconceived notions that physical stature, motherhood, emotional maturity, etc... put us at a disadvantage. Don't believe it! These would all be disadvantages to men. Believe that we are built to multitask, we have a higher tolerance for pain, we network more effectively, and so on. If you're the religious type, then believe that God built the second model better than the first. Men used to dominate as editors in chief, but today we have access to the facts. So don't accept the negative stereotypes that the previous generation of women fought so hard against.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Having a mentor has allowed me to learn and grow as a business woman in a very short amount of time. Trial by fire is less scary if you have someone to assist you. It also allowed me to maintain strength and confidence when things got tough.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
My mom. My mom went from a comfortable 20-year career as an account for a huge San Francisco based company to an LAPD detective. Today she is a highly decorated LAPD homicide detective who balanced a demanding job and motherhood. She wasn't afraid to take risks to achieve the goals she had set for herself all while being a mother and a wife for over 30 years and counting. For that, I admire her.

What do you want your franchise to accomplish in the next year?
My goal is to be recognized as a top five performing store in all categories throughout the brand and open a new location or make my mark on an existing store.