Welcome to One Year In, a feature in which Eater sits down for a chat with the chefs and owners of restaurants celebrating their one-year anniversary.
Brian Rossi of Adelitas Cocina y Cantina [Photo: Adam Larkey]
Adelitas Cocina y Cantina the restaurant named after a strong female warrior, turned one on April 29. Co-owner and manager, Brian Rossi, took over a space that was home to three different restaurants in two years and managed to shape Adelitas into a Mexican restaurant that is thriving twelve months in. In the kitchen Silvia Ayala, the main female soldadera or soldier, whips ups creations from family recipes from her hometown of Michoacán, Mexico. Her unique recipes give this restaurant the edge to compete against the other Mexican restaurants in the area.
The team at Adelitas focuses on bringing good service to the table with each tacos, carne asada, or the house margarita—which was just named best margarita by Westword. The spot features daily specials from the $1 taco Tuesday to "school nights" on margarita Monday when they are donating some of the profits to local schools. Eater talked to Rossi about the past year and the new edition of El Guapo.
How did you develop the idea for the restaurant and the partnership with the Ayala family? Adelitas Cocina y Cantina came to light when my cousin Tony Pasquini, who used to own this building, and his partner Chris Wong approached me about opening a Mexican restaurant. They knew my background. I was the manager at Mezcal for five years and then the manager at El Camino in the Highlands, and thought a Mexican restaurant would do well in the area. Originally, it was just going to be my family running the restaurant and it just didn't pan out that way. I ended up seeing a post online from Silvia Ayala's son Victor and their family was looking for a place too. I reached out to him and explained that I have a space but I am no chef. I asked Silvia to come take a look and the rest evolved from there. We had really good chemistry from day one and Sylvia's food is phenomenal. She uses all the classic recipes from her family and home town of Michoacán, Mexico and the restaurant took form from there.
The name of the restaurant comes from a folk story from the Mexican Revolution about a women soldiers- how did this theme and name get chosen? We were really trying to figure out what we wanted to do and what our identity was. That was the toughest part because the idea of the restaurant was not planned; it was a spur of the moment deal. La Adelita is a soldadera or woman soldier and this concept made sense for the restaurant because we have some strong women here. My mother was a big part of helping me fulfill my dreams as well as Victor's mom Silvia. We really wanted to pay tribute to strong women.
How does it feel to turn around a space that hasn't been successful for the past ? I wasn't here for what happened with the previous restaurants so I can't talk to what they did but I have had success in the past in building similar concepts so I felt confident that I could come here and use the same marketing strategies. The Platt Park neighborhood has also been very supportive of the restaurant. The people around here seem to really like it.
What makes Adelitas Cocina y Cantina different than other Mexican restaurants in the area? I think it is the region where our recipes come from. The food definitely has a different twist and lots of citrus notes since Michoacán is from the southern region of Mexico. It is also not quite as hardy as some of the other Mexican dishes you might get.
Besides our food though it is service. We preach customer service. I have been to a lot of restaurants where the chef does not want to see their food altered, but our philosophy here is a little bit different. We are not making it about the people who are working here but instead we are completely focused on what the customers wants. We really just try to treat everybody how they want to be treated when theygo out to a restaurant. We fight for customers. Our way of fighting for our customer is by putting out quality product; which we do everyday. We feel that if we can keep a nice atmosphere and have excellent food and excellent customer service then we shouldn't have anywhere to go except for up.
The restaurant has been noticed by 5280 Magazine and Westword, how has it been getting that recognition from the press? We are really thankful for anybody who wants to write about us at this point. We are not people who have huge reputations in this town who you see get all the press. It has been a growing process the whole way through. We are starting from scratch and we are just trying to create something that we hope people will enjoy. Each and every write up has been positive and it has helped us out and we are thankful.
After celebrating your one-year anniversary how do you feel about where the restaurant stands? I think there is so much happening in this town especially with food. It is pretty easy to be the place for one person to go to one day and then they find a new spot the next. I think it is always going to be a constant battle and we should never let our guard down. It is a hard business. Our first year of business we definitely had some roller coasters. It was up and down, but December was really the turning point for us. It was the point where we were all like this is great and our staff was happy because they were making some money. One of our waiters Eric was saying one day, "my pockets were just loaded after December." He is a young kid and he was super happy and it was great to hear. Then we had a meeting in January and I sat all the staff down and explained that January and February are typically slow months in the restaurant business and to just stay positive. After that though we noticed January was even better than December and February was ever better than January. It has been escalating ever since. Every week we sit here and kind of high five ourselves about last week. Our staff is able to come to work and pay their bills and be happy and really feel like they are a part of something.
You have daily specials each week but one special you do is to give back to local schools, tell us about that? Mondays we do margarita Monday, which is when our margaritas are two for the price of one. We try to reach out to any local schools and have them participate in what we call "school night." Parents, teachers, and students come in and dine and we donate 10 percent of our sales back to that school. That is pretty much the profit for the day but we want to be part of the community and we want to reach out and help the local schools. The reason we hosts these nights on margarita Monday is to help be light on the pocket book for the parents so they can enjoy themselves too. Mc Kinley-Thatcher Elementary, Lincoln Elementary, and St. John's have all participated.
You recently opened up the back space of the restaurant which is called El Guapo, what is this addition about?. On May 2, El Guapo opened. It is an area that is attached to Adeliats in the back and has a patio. We decided to do things a little different in this space It has a separate menu which consists of classic bar food items but with an Adelitas twist. The jalapeño poppers are extremely fresh with super light breading but sometimes they are really spicy because you never know what heat you will get from the jalapeños. There is also coconut shrimp and potatoes skins which all are made from scratch daily which is the same concept we use in the Adelitas kitchen. The other part of the menu consists of sliders, which are our tacos from Adelitas but put on slider buns. We are trying to utilize a lot of the same ingredients but use them a little different.
What should guests know when eating at your restaurant? We just want you to love Adelitas. I hope you are enjoying what we are trying so hard to keep and put together for each guest. I think so far we are on the up and up. As we have done this past year as far as evolution we will continue to evolve for our lifespan.
— By Kelsey Colt