Cesar Ramirez grew up in the mountains of the Dominican Republic, far from the tourists who roamed the beaches, far from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. So, the first time he headed to town, he wasn’t prepared for what he thought were monsters zooming down the paved roads.
“I was 8 years old; I’d never been to the city,” Ramirez chuckled. “When I saw a car for the first time, I got scared.”
A self-proclaimed “country boy,” Ramirez got accustomed to the big city quickly. He moved to New York at age 16 and now lives in Orlando, where he oversees a chain of supermarkets that stretches from Central Florida to the Big Apple.
His business partners include first cousin Marino Abreu and Luis Merejo.
“Marino and I have been together since third grade, and he’s my brother,” Ramirez said. “We’ve owned Bravo together since 1990, and, before that, we owned another grocery store.”
In honor of Hispanic Heritage Month, Regions is celebrating business owners who make a difference in the communities they serve.
For Ramirez, the business has been his passion since he first emigrated to the U.S. He and Marino attended school, learned English and three days into their new lives began working part-time at a grocery store, catching the bug for daily interaction with customers – jobs they held even while in school and during an internship at IBM, which exposed him to a different side of the corporate world.
“Going to college and going to IBM showed me different elements of the business that I was able to apply to the grocery business,” he said. But it’s what made the groceries industry unique that kept him engaged. “It’s the communication with customers, the art of doing business – buying and selling to get the best deals – that keeps me motivated.”
Ramirez and Abreu opened their first Bravo in Harlem. Ramirez remembers the date: Feb. 7, 1990. The 5,000-square foot store more than doubled their initial size. Three years later, they opened a 10,000-square foot store, also in Greater New York, before eyeing expansion in the South.
Orlando proved a perfect choice because of the climate and availability of another Ramirez passion, golf.
Regions’ Eddy Balzac has been there as Bravo Supermarket has expanded in multiple locations.
“First, she’s a friend, and we have a great banking relationship,” Ramirez said. “I’ve known Eddy for years. She’s one of the people you meet who make your life much easier. She worked with us when we were going through a hard time, and she always gives us her support and complete attention.”
A commercial relationship banker based in Orlando, Balzac has made sure Ramirez and Bravo have the resources they need to succeed, using a comprehensive approach, called Regions360, which has led to construction loans, mortgages, investments and assistance with long-term planning. Balzac’s professional connections with Ramirez and Bravo date back to before she joined Regions.
“When I moved to Regions, a new door opened with so many more opportunities for the client,” Balzac said. “Little by little, we’ve added services that have allowed them to continue to grow.”
Balzac noted that Ramirez hasn’t changed much, despite his success. His energy and enthusiasm are just as strong as they were when he was starting out in business. His community commitment is strong. He’s been married to wife Millie for 31 years and is devoted to his daughters Kristine, Kelsey and Kaitlyn. Kristine, the eldest, is following his footsteps and running one of the markets in New York.
“He’s a friend,” Balzac said. “When they need advice on projects, they can count on me for good suggestions. We’ve been working together for 10 years. We’re like family.”
It’s a relationship built on trust, sustained by respect.
“Cesar and Marino are nice, hard-working people. They’re humble. And I really enjoy working with them,” Balzac added.