Meet Amanda Moreno: The queen of Oak Cliff real estate

amandapost

Sweat trickled down Amanda Moreno’s skin as she sat another clint in a swivel chair within her small salon on Davis Street.

The Dallas entrepreneur had hoped — along with her customers — that her landlord would install an air conditioner to shield her and the clients from the unrelenting heat in August that often pushed past 100 degrees.

Instead, his response was somewhat cold: “No, if you want to do it, you do it.”

It wasn’t easy, but Moreno scrapped together $5,500 to put in a 5-ton air conditioning system for her 800-square-foot business, Amanda’s Salon y Boutique.

“I was just tired of sweating and cutting hair,” said Moreno, who still remembers the long hours and keeping the salon open seven days a week in the late 1990s in hopes of landing that extra elusive customer.

Once the air conditioner was installed, Moreno excitedly bragged to the landlord that the unit had been put in the salon.

Unimpressed, he told her that she wouldn’t be able to take the air conditioner with her when her lease expired.

Moreno fired back, “Who told you I was leaving? I’m going to own this shopping center one day.”

Years later, the serial entrepreneur who would come to own a number of Oak Cliff businesses, including the beauty shop, a bar and grill and a doll store, bought that property from the landlord, the late Morris Steinberg, in 2003.

The rest was history for the Moreno, who likes others to underestimate her and prefers to fly under the radar (although she gave the Dallas Business Journal this exclusive interview).

In the Oak Cliff business community, she has found her passion: Real estate investment.

“This is like a little treasure hunt for me, every day is different and nothing is the same,” she said. “It doesn’t become work, even when you are dealing with challenges. It’s not all roses, but it’s part of life.”

For Moreno, 44, her passion — along with two other local real estate investors — has included decades building the Bishop Arts District into the ever-growing popular destination for Dallas residents seeking a reprieve from the cookie-cutter development in other neighborhoods.

The authentic feel of the community with its early 20th-century redeveloped red brick shops and bungalow homes has turned north Oak Cliff and the Bishop Arts District into a redevelopment hotbed in North

Texas.

“Jim, Amanda and David have all been critical to the Bishop Arts District,” said Scott Griggs, the council member with the Dallas City Council overseeing the district in reference to Moreno, Jim Lake Jr. and David Spence.

“They are putting in tenants with diverse character that are keeping the authenticity of the community with a mix of retail and restaurants that are very desirable,” he said.

Now, as other developers come into the Bishop Arts District, Moreno said she hopes to help maintain the Hispanic community she’s known all her life in north Oak Cliff.

“As a property owner, you must get involved in your community,” she said. Coming from a large family
Growing up in West Dallas, Moreno was the sixth of seven children whose parents were Mexican immigrants. The family shared an 800-square-foot home that wasn’t heated adequately: In the winter, it wasn’t uncommon for a cup of water left on the counter overnight to ice over by morning.

By the time she was 10 years old, Moreno knew she wasn’t meant to live paycheck-to-paycheck.

“I wanted to prove I would survive,” said Moreno, who started selling gum- filled lollipops at school for 25 cents apiece to buy the things her parents couldn’t afford, like cute shoes, stickers and books.

“I knew I’d work really hard to do whatever it took to be successful,” she said. “I knew I didn’t want to raise my children in a cold house.”

Moreno grew up fast. She was raised in a household where domestic violence was not uncommon, an unfortunate way of life.

As a young girl, Moreno grew up hating her father, Humberto, for beating her mother Maria, who she helped in the kitchen and cooked for the entire family.

But it was also Humberto, a construction worker, who inspired a sense of business in Moreno and told her to get into real estate investment.

When she was a child, her father would tell her she had a fire in her belly from eating too many jalapeños.

Perhaps it was the jalapeños, or sheer stubbornness, but Moreno threw herself into the business world. She didn’t know much about profit and loss statements, but she knew she had no choice but to succeed, despite her lack of formal education.

By the time she turned 18 years old, Moreno began looking at boarded up buildings in the neighborhood now known as the Bishop Arts District.
Soon, she opened up a Western wear store on Davis Street before transforming it into a salon and began cutting hair seven days a week.

Learning business lessons

It took years before Moreno put the property in the 300 block of W. Davis Street under contract and soon began dividing the property up into smaller retail shops at the now-entrance to the popular Bishop Arts District neighborhood.

The smaller shops quickly leased, bringing in a real estate cash flow. Each time Moreno wrote a check for the monthly payment on the owner- financed property to the seller, Steinberg, he’d say, “Amanda, if you write me one hot check or this check doesn’t clear, I’ll take this building away from you.”

After all, he said, this is business.

This was Moreno’s first lesson — and one that kept her up at night, worrying all her hard work would be taken away from her. Nervously, she

walked into Laredo National Bank on Jefferson Street and spoke with banker Carlos Coy, who asked to see the leases on the property and quickly gave her a $700,000 loan.

But that wasn’t the only business lesson she learned in the Bishop Arts District.

A fellow property owner, David Spence of Good Space, wanted Moreno’s holdings in the neighborhood and would call in the city’s code compliance inspectors on her properties.

Moreno befriended the inspectors and learned an important part of Dallas real estate: Chapter 51 of the city’s code of ordinances, which governs Dallas property.

In the end, Moreno had to spend $2,000 modifying the sidewalk in front of her shops behind a building now occupied by Lockhart Smokehouse on W. Davis Street (a property she also owns). Moreno retaliated, putting the words, “David Spence Suxs,” in the sidewalk’s concrete.

“If you don’t understand the code, these expenses can hurt your pocket book and add up real quick as a small business owner,” said Moreno, who has since mastered Chapter 51 of the city’s code of ordinances to ensure she doesn’t get hassled by city inspectors or neighboring landlords.

In comparison, cracking the codebook open was easy compared with business lessons Moreno learned on the street in north Oak Cliff. She still remembers being robbed by gunpoint in her Western wear store shortly after her now 23-year-old son’s birth and the fear she felt, wondering if she would survive to care for her family.

It was former Dallas Police Chief David Kunkle, who walked the streets in north Oak Cliff, who befriended Moreno and other small business owners that told her to keep goods clear from shop windows to help patrolling police officers.

Today, Moreno has a congenial relationship with Spence, who said he’s even a little bit proud of the sidewalk memoriam.

“It was a silly thing, but I’m kind of proud of it now,” said Spence, who said he still remembers Moreno cutting his hair at her salon on W. Davis Street.

“Amanda is very capable at everything she does,” Spence said. “She’s one of the top most consequential young professionals in Oak Cliff.

“She’s had a huge impact on north Oak Cliff and is still relatively young,” he added.

Former president of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce Bob Stimson has known Moreno for three decades and said, “She’s as sharp as they come.

“She’s not only one of those people who can cut a good deal on a building, but she can envision what a community can look at years down the road,” he said. “That’s the woman that knows the ins and outs of City Hall.”

The dragon within

Another fellow property owner in the Bishop Arts District — Jim Lake Jr. — had always known Moreno as the “Dragon Lady,” a nickname given to her because in the Dallas business world, she seemed to be breaking all the rules.

“I would hear from our leasing woman that she had been sitting there two or three hours waiting for a permit and Amanda goes in there with a whole stack of permits and she’s in and out in 15 minutes,” said Lake, who is the son of real estate investor Jim Lake Sr. and — much like a number of Dallas real estate investors — grew up in the family business.

Her innate ability to erupt, either in bubbly laughter amongst friends and family, or flash an angry look at a perceived injustice, were often polarizing. Moreno said she makes no apologies for her behavior.

“I don’t care if I’m the only one saying, ‘That’s not right.’ If I believe it’s wrong, I’ll stand up and say something,” said Moreno, who has become a community advocate by serving as a DART board member and chairwoman of the Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce.

Moreno caught Lake’s eye when the duo were serving on the board of the Oak Cliff Chamber. The two had invested alongside each other in the Bishop Arts District, but had never met in person before the chamber service.

Lake was impressed by Moreno’s business acumen and the two struck up a friendship. Years later, Lake asked Moreno out on a date and the two eventually married.

It was Moreno that introduced Lake to Waxahachie as a potential real estate investment play. The North Texas town sits less than 30 miles from downtown Dallas and soon that introduction turned the sleepy community’s historic downtown square into a massive redevelopment project, which is currently wrapping up.

Soon, the pair will begin a similar redevelopment effort in Ennis and the duo hope to build on that success in other North Texas towns. For Moreno, it’s taken some time to get used to the Lake name, which can often bring a premium when it comes to buying real estate.

In the end, whether it’s the Bishop Arts District, Waxahachie or Ennis, the pair is in it for the long haul.

“We’ll never sell,” she said. “We revitalize older buildings. That’s our passion and a legacy for our children and families.”

Working in a man’s world

When Moreno isn’t busy putting together a real estate deal, she’s a community advocate and mentor to young women professionals in Oak Cliff.

“This is a man’s world and woman have to work 10 times harder than a man,” Moreno said. “The only way to overcome it is to find the rules and master the rules to the game.”

For Moreno, it’s about imparting lessons she learned on the streets of Oak Cliff to other strong women in the predominately Hispanic community.

One of those mentees, Socorro Dismore, said she admired how Moreno carried herself in the male-dominated world of real estate.

“She is a magnet to those people around her and I realized I wanted to be where she is one day,” said Dismore, who is picking up some one-on-one lessons with Moreno, who recently helped her change the permitted use on one of Dismore’s properties to commercial use.

With Oak Cliff steeped in Hispanic culture, it’s often hard for women to take the reins of their destiny, said Moreno, who still remembers growing up in a household where men and boys were often the first to eat a meal ahead of the women, who often cooked the meal.

Moreno refused to wait to eat the dinner she cooked as a child and she’s still not waiting.

Today, she takes on the persona of oldest child and takes care of her aging mother, siblings, children and grandchild. When her nieces and nephews tell her they don’t want to pursue a college education and follow in her footsteps, she reminds them she got lucky in life, which isn’t the case for every small business owner, and she tells them they need an education.

“I was too stubborn to give up,” she said. “You have to work harder than anyone else, but you can still do it.”

Experience

Partner in Lake-Moreno LLC, overseeing large redevelopment efforts in

Waxahachie, Ennis and the historic Texas Theatre in Oak Cliff
Owns VA Capital LLC, a real estate investment company with property management and consulting services
Manages and leases retail properties for Ballas Investments
Owns C&K Capital LLC, a consulting firm for zoning, permitting, liquor licensing and general contracting
Owns 2 Esquinas & Bishop Arts LLC, which has two corner retail buildings in Bishop Arts District

Community

Oak Cliff Chamber of Commerce, chair of the board 2016 The Family Place, board member 2016
DART Board of Directors, vice chair of the economic opportunity and diversity committee and member of the budget and finance committee Oak Cliff Gateway Steering Committee member
Consulting member for Kessler School board Jefferson Merchants Association member

Candace Carlisle
Staff Writer
Dallas Business Journal