FOSTORIA - The name might sound Mexican, but the operators of Fostoria's AJR Morales Caf are offering food choices to appeal to everybody.
Manager Isadore Bustamante said he is honoring his mother, Aurora, and his uncles, Juan and Rodolfo Morales, with the name.
"It's kind of more or less their work ethics and their learning," Bustamante said. "It's the knowledge that they provided for us to move forward with our own lives. I'm using what they shared and making something positive."
PHOTO BY PAT GAIETTO
Isadore Bustamante, owner of AJR Morales Café, and Yvonne Gama prepare dishes during the restaurant’s grand opening in Fostoria.
Bustamante said he is drawing on 13 years of restaurant experience. The partnership includes he and wife, Connie (Elchert), her parents, Hank and Pat Elchert and grandmother, Cecilia Elchert.
"We come from two different cultures, but our work ethic and values are the same," Bustamante said. "That's why we mesh together so well."
When George and Mary Pappas decided to sell, the Elcherts bought the building that used to house Candyland restaurant at Main and Sandusky streets in December 2007.
Restaurant hours are 6 a.m.-9 p.m. daily. Closed Mondays.
"That was one of the nice things about buying this place," Hank Elchert said. "It has a very positive reputation."
The family spent more than two years remodeling the building and doing much of the work themselves. They completely replaced the kitchen and replaced the counter and fixtures in the soda shop area.
In the bar area, Elchert said he bought a bar unit at an auction.
The whole place got a facelift.
"There's more than 40 man hours in each of these rooms getting the floors to look like this," he said, pointing to the original hardwood floors.
"There was a lot of deconstruction before construction started," Elchert said.
He said they used local contractors when needed and bought materials in Fostoria, Tiffin and Findlay whenever possible.
"We tried to localize everything we could," he said.
The restaurant is divided into three sections - and customers may get the same food in whichever area they choose to sit.
"With our liquor license you can drink beer in any room," Elchert said.
At one side is a soda shop modeled after the ones popular in the 1950s and 60s. It features a soda bar and music from the era.
On the opposite side is a sports bar atmosphere.
"They can sit and have a drink and watch the game," Bustamante said.
The center section is a family restaurant area that features Hispanic music.
"We have not just Mexican food itself," Bustamante said. "We have a variety of food. Some people make that mistake because of the last name. Notice it doesn't say 'Mexican restaurant.'
"You can have a Hispanic breakfast or you can have an American breakfast," Elchert said.
Daily specials are planned to offer foods that are too time-consuming to cook every day.
For example, meatloaf might the special one day and the "famous" Elchert homemade potato salad might be featured another day, Elchert said.
A Sunday brunch buffet also is planned.
"There will be a hot bar during the week for lunch and supper, as well as a salad bar," Bustamante said.
Elchert said the assortment of salads, fruit and Mexican and American hot dishes offers a good alternative to fast food for people who need lunch quickly.
"It's good, homemade food served just as fast as you get it at fast food, at the same or a better price," Elchert said. "There's nothing over $10 on this menu. Isadore is competing directly with fast food.
"And it's healthy foods, as opposed to fast food," Elchert added. "I think that's a tribute to Izzy and his staff for putting that together."
The restaurant first opened for a couple days in April, but Bustamante quickly discovered the number of customers was too much for the new staff to handle.
He temporarily closed to make a few changes.
The grand opening was May 15 and the restaurant has been open since then.
"It's a live-and-learn situation and you move on," Bustamante said.
"The community's been waiting for a while," he said. "We know we're going to be busy, but we're not going to make the same mistake. I feel confident there will be a lot of less stress. We want to make sure our customers are taken care of."
Members of the Morales family traveled from Chicago to attend the grand opening and ribbon cutting, which featured a blessing by the Rev. Ron Schock and family members arriving in a horse-drawn surrey.