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One-on-one with Mike Silva

Mike Silva, Owner of Rude Boy Cookies. ( Adolphe Pierre-Louis/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Mike Silva has found a way to combine his greatest loves: music, cookies and Albuquerque.

His two cookie shops – one near the University of New Mexico and the other at the renovated El Vado Motel near Old Town – are called Rude Boy Cookies, playing off the term for serious ska music fans.

Silva is a very serious fan. He can play accordion, sax and drums, and he’s in two bands, including one he started called the Duke City Ska Jazz Syndicate.

“Music was kind of a big turning point for me, and as I’ve grown older in life and tried to find things to connect to and ground myself to, I’ve always come back to the music,” says Silva, 51.

The other company Silva owns with partner Jesse Herron, the Albuquerque Tourism & Sightseeing Factory, grew out of Silva’s love for the city to which he and his mother and siblings fled after “some really tough times” in Los Angeles.

“I love Albuquerque,” says Silva, who arrived here when he was 8. “To say I’m passionate about it seems kind of cliché, but what it did for my family and the people here that helped make the transition doable – my love for this city is so strong.”

The tourism factory, founded in 2015, includes the Albucreepy Downtown Ghost Walk, the Duke City Pedaler and a trolley service that boomed with its tour of “Breaking Bad” locations, Silva says.

“We go around the city every day and tell folks all over the world how amazing Albuquerque is,” says Silva, who won an Ethics in Business award last year in the individual excellence category.

“That’s what we do.”

Silva is also very big on his family and his friends, especially the long-standing group unofficially known as the Circle.

“‘Coffee with brothas’ is what I call it,” Silva says. “There’s not a lot of African-American folks around here, so to find professional black men – there definitely are folks like that here, but I was finding in my circle I wasn’t running into too many, so we kind of get together to help each other and get a little wind beneath our wings. Out of that grew some really cool moments.”

For example, the group decided a couple of years ago to buy out a movie theater and fill it with kids who ate popcorn, sipped drinks and watched “Black Panther.”

“We decided we’re going to have them experience what we might not have been able to,” Silva says. “When it ended, the kids clapped, hooted and hollered. I had to fight back tears.”

What led you to become an entrepreneur?

“It’s funny. I was working traditional jobs. I didn’t have an entrepreneurial bone in my body, as far as I knew, and I had a job that I loved … and they fired me. And the way that went down was so humiliating. I had to do that walk of shame: go sit in an office and they tell you that you’re not employed anymore and you have to walk back to your office and pack up a box and by now everybody in the whole office knows. It was maybe one of the lowest points in my life. My wife and I had just bought a brand-new house, so we panicked and it was stressful. We managed to get through it, but from that I decided I was never going to work for anybody ever again. I decided I’m going to create a work environment where people want to work, where people are treated fairly.”

Why did you branch out into cookies?

“Cookies came about five years after the tour business started. Everybody has their go-to sweet. For some people, it’s cake, a scoop of ice cream. For me, it was always a chocolate chip cookie. I looked around the community, and there was no designated cookie shop. And then there was my love of music. So I laid in bed one night, and I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to open a cookie shop called Rude Boy Cookies, and it’s going to play reggae and ska music and I’m doing this.'”

You mentioned your childhood. What were you like as a kid?

“My childhood in Los Angeles was a little difficult, which was what led to coming out here. My dad had a rough go. He was battling some demons that he was never really able to shake. He passed away when I was in ninth grade. (Moving to Albuquerque) was very tough for me because I was a pretty hardened kid for a third-grader already. I had already kind of seen way too much, been exposed to some things I probably shouldn’t have seen. I was a stubborn, angry kid … in suspension all the time. Fourth grade was a year I found a little bit of comfort because I was playing sax. By the time I got to middle school, the instrument was such a big part of my life that everything was no longer an issue, because I was so focused. The music kind of changed me.”

What was it that fostered your love for Albuquerque?

“I had teachers I took a liking to. My early music director (at Lowell Elementary School) made an influence on me really early. And then when I reached high school, a buddy of mine, his parents took me in as their own and to this day, they’re like family to me. I’ve been fortunate in that my life has been filled with people that have come and gone, really important people. But it’s been the folks that have come and stayed that have changed things for me, that have helped me to see that there’s another way. That I can persevere, and I can move forward because a whole lot of people have stepped in and helped to push me forward to the point I’m sitting here with you now because otherwise I would have fallen prey to what everyone else around me was doing early on.”

What do you think makes you successful?

“I’m honest, I’m vulnerable. I’m not afraid to admit my mistakes. I’m not afraid to acknowledge that I don’t know everything. I definitely have a sense of fearlessness about me. Not reckless, but fearless, and I have a strong push and motivation to be wealthy. I’m not going to deny that. I am motivated by wealth, but here’s the thing. The wealth that I hope to achieve will be enough to make sure my family’s good, but if it ever gets to the point that I want it to get to, then the amount I can give back and do for this city is unbelievable. It’s going to be massive. That’s part of my motivation.”

Besides cookies, what are your favorite foods?

“I love pizza. I love spinach. Hated it as a kid, love it now. My wife makes an incredible salmon. My mother-in-law makes unbelievable salmon. I didn’t eat meat for a really long time, but now I’m back to eating meat, brisket.”

What’s a splurge for you?

“A splurge for me would be a huge, diner-sized piece of chocolate fudge cake with a scoop of mocha fudge ice cream. That’s a splurge for me. Going on a road trip with a bunch of my buddies and watching some sporting games and having good meals. Give me some food, folks and fun, and I’m happy.”