John and Brenda Kirschbaum purchased the El Rancho Mexican restaurant six years ago.
It was a risk the couple felt ready to take.
"I can't imagine doing anything else," 31-year-old John said.
The Kirschbaums share a common ambition, one that balances the extremes of their personalities. Brenda, 33, is the bean counter. She pays attention to the details and makes sure business runs smoothly on the back end. John taps into the energy created by social interaction. He's the customer service half of their partnership.
"His strength is working in the restaurant, talking to customers," Brenda said.
The Kirschbaums have been married for six years. She's a CPA; he's been working for nearly three-quarters of his life.
As one of eight children, John learned at an early age the value of earning money and attaining a good education.
At 9, John took his first job delivering newspapers.
By his 12th birthday, he was working at McDonald's and learning the nuts and bolts of owning and operating a successful restaurant.
John's hands-on education continued before he could even drive. In the early 1990s, at the age of 15, he went to work for Rim Country restaurateur, Jeff Seivert, first at Country Kitchen, and then at the Ponderosa Steak House, where he honed his management skills.
And at the Country Kitchen, he met Brenda, a co-worker who, like John, also grew up in Payson.
Kirschbaum graduated second in his Payson High School class and headed to the University of Arizona with a full-ride scholarship.
"I had no ideas what I wanted to do," he said. "It's hard to say why I like this business because I started when I was so young and that's all I knew."
Opportunities for career advancement drew John back to the Country Kitchen. Sievert put him to work managing the Payson store, and as soon as another location opened in Globe, John became the company's regional manager.
Then, six years ago, the Kirschbaums married. During a night out at El Rancho, the opportunity of a lifetime found the newlyweds over guacamole and chips.
"I can eat Mexican food all day and never get tired of it," he said.
It happened during a passing conversation with former El Rancho owners, Bob and Jeannie Garduno. They wanted to sell; the Kirschbaums wanted to buy.
"It was kind of a fluke that we bought the restaurant," Brenda said. "We put every penny into this. It was scary."
"We bought this restaurant together and we built it together," she added.
Meanwhile, the Kirschbaums were operating a successful house-flipping business. The proceeds from this venture, along with the sales of their respective homes, and Brenda's CPA income, helped finance the new restaurant.
While their version of El Rancho -- a Payson landmark restaurant since the 1960s --flourished, the Kirschbaums moved into a small trailer on the parking lot.
"The initial year was hectic," he said. "We have really good people who work for us. We've been pretty lucky with turnover."
Good employees, good food and good service are the cornerstones of El Rancho's success. But the Kirschbaums also stay focused, positive and committed to their livelihood and to their family.
"You have to make it work," he said.
The couple's three children --Boyd, 13; McKennah, 4 and Kylan, 2 -- and their parents take out the ATVs or head to the lake for some boating and waterskiing.