By Lora Neu, Editor | Posted: Thursday, April 24, 2014 1:00 am
ELOY, Ariz. — The aroma of delectable food will be wafting down Frontier Street in Eloy starting today.
La Paloma Restaurant has opened for business after more than a year of planning by the Pinal Hispanic Council.
The restaurant is funded by Cenpatico, operated by Pinal Hispanic Council (PHC), and is an incubator business affiliated with Central Arizona College.
In addition to being a much-anticipated new eating establishment for Eloy and surrounding locales, La Paloma restaurant is also a place that focuses on the community.
With funding from Cenpatico, PHC will be able to hire trainees who are looking to learn about the restaurant business and to gain the skills to work in any restaurant.
Ralph Varela, CEO of PHC and business manager and director of the restaurant, said that the restaurant will be balanced between a permanent staff and trainees who are looking for assistance in getting into the job market, especially the hospitality business.
After six months, the trainees will earn a certificate that attests the individual has all the skills needed. Other employers “can hire them immediately,” Varela explained, since they will already have been trained to work in a restaurant. Trainees will have the opportunity to focus on the area of restaurant work they are most interested in, whether it be cooking, serving, customer service or any of the numerous jobs involved in the hospitality business.
CAC’s role in all of this is to support La Paloma as a small business incubator. Jim Rhodes, CAC’s Small Business Development Director, said the relationship between CAC and La Paloma will provide “a way to orient people who want to start a business.” The Small Business Development Center provides counseling to prospective business owners and also to existing businesses.
A prospective restaurateur would come into La Paloma, and basically work for the restaurant to learn the business from the ground up. “You come in and do whatever they want you to do,” Rhodes said. After a few months, the individual would “have some skin in the game,” and then would have a better idea of how, or even whether or not, to proceed.
The restaurant creates an opportunity for the SBDC’s clients, fosters a connection between Eloy and CAC and SBDC’s clients may go on to open their own business and bring money into the community.
Rhodes credits Varela as “top quality” in everything he does and that includes La Paloma Restaurant. Individuals who open their own restaurants can say, “I started at La Paloma,” Rhodes said.
In preparation for the opening of La Paloma, the SBDC helped out with creating a business plan, writing job descriptions, wait staff manual, and manager interview questions, as well as creating a budget and helping with menu planning.
Business incubation is a concept that can create jobs, foster an entrepreneurial climate, create and retain businesses, and even revitalize a community, all of which are an important boost to Eloy.
The business incubator model will provide opportunities to come up with ideas as to how the restaurant can be used to continue to foster business development in Eloy as well as in Pinal County. But, being run by PHC, the main purpose of the restaurant is to provide employment opportunity and job training to PHC clients.
In addition to that mission, profits from the restaurant, which has been funded by Cenpatico, will go back into restaurant operations and help fund PHC operations.
The PHC Board of Directors looks forwarding to seeing La Paloma be embraced by Eloyans.
“We really want the restaurant to be part of the community,” Varela said. Sponsoring schools, youth clubs, local events and activities will be one way to “give back to the community that’s helping support the restaurant,” he added.
Taking into considering the stakeholders, the restaurant’s mission, the good food and ambiance, as well as the need for more restaurants in Eloy, all adds up to what should be a successful business.
But the food is a big part of what will determine the success. And heading up that department is restaurant manager Shawn Johansen.
Johansen is a Casa Grande native and was previously the director of food and beverage at Hogans restaurant at Mission Royale in Casa Grande.
After a change in ownership at Hogans Johansen and her husband created My Chef To Go, a mobile kitchen that traveled all over Pinal County for special events and street vending.
Now, Johansen says she is thrilled for the opportunity to be working with PHC. Her two key employees at La Paloma are Michelle Thomas, her lead server who has worked with Johansen on and off for 10 years, and Head Cook Sam Ortega who comes with 25 years of cooking experience. “They are my right and left hands,” Johansen said.
Johansen’s staff is made up of three full time and three part time employees.
On Monday the restaurant held a soft opening where they received direct feedback on the food, and had diners fill out a survey. They’ve been tweaking things based on that response and will continue to use survey cards. Getting that feed back is “key, vital to building your restaurant and making it a success,” Johansen said.
In a nutshell, keeping it local and keeping it authentic could describe La Paloma. To that end the Mexican and American food restaurant has turned to local residents, restaurant employees and PHC staff to provide recipes to fill out the menu.
Many of the dishes are named after their inspiration, such as the Eloy Tacos that are deep fried and come with pickles as a garnish if requested. Pickles on tacos may be a tradition for some families, and for some, it just comes down to liking pickles.
In honor of the Toltec Restaurant and Tavern, you’ll find Irene’s Famous Greek Salad featuring homemade Greek dressing, and the Toltec Tavern Cheeseburger. “Everyone loved her Greek salad and burgers,” Johansen said.
Liz’s Enchiladas are classic cheese enchiladas with red sauce. They come with a side of Rosie’s frijoles and Liz’s arroz.
Restaurant manager Shawn’s moniker goes on the daily homemade soups that include chicken noodle, albondigas, chili with frijoles, tomato bisque, clam chowder and on every Saturday the restaurant will serve menudo all day.
Other lunch items include deep-fried mozzarella, jalapeno poppers and onion ring appetizers, cheese crisp, quesadilla, and ceviche. A range of salads and sandwiches are available including a burger, and a Southwestern Philly that turned out to be a favorite at the soft opening.
Johansen, who likes to pair different flavors and try new things has incorporated a panini machine to create Ralph’s Panini, a Rueben-style corned beef sandwich, as well as a smoked Gouda and ham panini and turkey bruschetta panini.
The fresh and home made menu items also include a full breakfast menu that is served from 7-11 a.m.
Burritos, chorizo and eggs, panini, huevos rancheros and French toast add to this diverse menu.
A children’s menu is also available serving kid-size portions of items on the main menu.
And, the facility still has a pizza oven. Johansen has been testing pizza recipes all week and will be offering tasting samples of the pizza at the grand opening ceremony to be held on May 5.
Everything on the menu is fresh—nothing is frozen, and all of the recipes are homemade, and in the fall, Johansen plans to come up with specials based on fresh produce purchased from local organic farm, the Lucky Nickel Ranch.
Other features of the restaurant include the colorful ambiance and décor, and a pick up window. Those who don’t want to sit down to eat can call about 20 minutes ahead to order then drive through to pick up their meal.
It’s been quite a labor of love, Johansen says of the transformation of the restaurant and all of the planning that went into the menu.
With more than 30 years of restaurant experience, 15 of them as a chef, Johansen points out that the success of the restaurant and the satisfaction of the diners “is a total reflection on me.” And to make everything go well, you’ll be seeing Johansen “all over the place” in the restaurant.
“This is what I love,” she said.
Fresh, homemade food, a friendly staff and a beautiful restaurant portend well for La Paloma, or “The Dove.”
“Like any restaurant we like to go to, it’s a place of comfort,” Varela said.
A grand opening and ribbon cutting ceremony will be held on Monday, May 5. The restaurant is open for business starting today, April 24.