It's lunch time in Somerton and tables at Sushi House are filling up.
Owners Karla and Jaime Ojeda, who moved to Somerton four years ago, go from table to table taking and delivering orders. The restaurant opened in March and Karla Ojeda says their neighbors have taken to their traditional sushi menu with its southwestern twist, like the jalapeño roll.
"We've been making sushi since 2014 here in Somerton but before it was a home-based business," Karla Ojeda said.
Most businesses in Somerton are located on or right off of Main Street, though Sushi House is one of a handful not on the main road between Yuma and San Luis. The Cactus Plaza on Somerton Avenue is also home to a barber shop, an auto glass shop and a Mexican bakery.
"I believe people want something new, something different," Ojeda said. A lot of new offices are opening up and a lot of people, during lunchtime and dinner, are looking for something besides hamburgers and pizza. It is a good idea to start here as a small business and go from there."
2018 is Somerton's centennial anniversary. Over the years, many businesses have come and gone in downtown Somerton. Most recently, the recession delayed business and economic growth in the region.
Hector Tapia, the city's economic development director, said the goal now is to make Somerton a destination for Yuma County residents year-round and not just during major events like an annual Tamale Festival that draws tens of thousands to this town of about 17,000.
"My job is to bring businesses to Somerton," Tapia said. "So what I tell people or potential businesses is we're going back to the future to go back to the activity Somerton had 80 years ago."
Tapia said the city is studying where residents shop and dine in Yuma and San Luis. They want to know what businesses have a good chance to succeed in Somerton.
Tapia himself is a resource for potential business owners.
"I help them with the business license applications, any permits or any remodeling for their business," he said. "I can help. I'm the main contact from the beginning to the end."
Tapia said Somerton has everything entrepeneurs need, including space in the old city hall and more than 7,000 square feet of office space at the former site of the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Additional retail, office, or industrial space would need to be built.
Recent new businesses in Somerton include a complex for a regional health care provider, a supermarket, a sports bar, a national chain hardware store, a taco shop and a major burger chain. These have brought more services and dining and shopping options as well as jobs for locals.
Earlier this month, Sushi House hosted the monthly mixer of the Somerton Chamber of Commerce. Business owners here have weathered recession, but now look forward to continued growth for their community.
Chamber executive director Stephanie Pereda said local businesses are promoted through events like the monthly meetings and an annual business expo.
"There are lot of people who want to make business here in Somerton," Pereda said. "Somerton is growing so fast."
An affordable housing market and low crime rates have drawn thousands of new residents to Somerton since 2000. The population has more than doubled since then.
Pereda said the family-friendly community is doing all it can to maintain the slogan many locals have adopted- "the Best Little City in Arizona."