El Tipico ready for grand reopening after remodel
By Kevin Milliken for La Prensa
Sept. 7, 2012: Friends are putting up fencing outside and putting the finishing touches on the interior.
Now El Tipico owner Dina Villa Nostrant hopes to re-open Toledo’s oldest Mexican restaurant after months of remodeling. An interior designer by trade, El Tipico will have her signature touches on the décor, but it’s still her late mom’s influence where everything else is concerned.
“It’s been fun, because just seeing the changes in the restaurant,” she said. “I wish my mom was here. Thank God I still have my father. But I wish my mother was here to see it all. I would like to see the smile on her face.”
The restaurant is a blend of jewel and earth tones in its color scheme, what Dina called “warm and inviting” to her customers, both new and old.
“I was able to combine both God-given talents: my interior design and the restaurant I was brought up in since I was two years old,” she explained. “So it’s both of my passions brought together. But what really drives us is our clientele. They’ve been awesome. They talk to us on Facebook, leave messages on the phone, like ‘Hurry up and open, we’re addicted to the food!’ or ‘I can’t live without my tacos or my salsa or my beef tip burritos!’ They’re so faithful.”
El Tipico, 1444 South Ave., first opened in 1968 as a way to keep her mom Consuelo occupied while her kids were in school and her husband worked. But it became the family business over the years—one Dina wants to keep going in her mom’s memory. Consuelo built the customer base, some of whom still come after 44 years. Dina wants to build it further.
“They’re fun. They’re fun people. They bring smiles to my face,” she said. “We had no idea we were going to be shut down this long. Originally we thought a month or two at the most.”
As many other Latino families have done, Consuelo and Ezekiel Villa moved to Toledo from San Antonio in the 1960’s, expecting it to be a temporary stop. Ezekiel was an Air Force recruiter at the time. There are pictures of Ezekiel in uniform by the front entrance.
As Dina tells the story, her father lied to get into the Air Force at age 14 at the tail end of World War II. That made him the youngest man to ever enter the Air Force.
“Absolutely he lied. It was either that or he continue working as a migrant worker in the fields,” she recalled. “He managed to pass a test, missed only one or two questions with only a fourth-grade education. He served in Korea.”
Dina’s dad, now 80 years young, is still involved in the South Toledo restaurant—as greeter, unofficial ‘manager’, and gentleman maître d’.
“He’s the papa bear, the overseer,” she said with a grin. “He says he’s here just for his good looks.”
The remodeling work began rather simply, an effort to make the restaurant’s bathrooms compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But over time, the remodel grew into something bigger to honor Consuelo’s memory. Booths were added in the dining room, the parking lot was repaved, privacy fencing is being installed, and the vegetable garden has been replanted. An outdoor patio is being added in the fall.
“A lot of personal things happened within our family. Also, there were holdups with getting permits, things like that,” she explained. “Originally we were just going to do the inside and do a little cosmetic facelift.”
But that facelift soon became a full-fledged makeover. As the project got bigger and bigger, more permits were needed, which meant more visits to city building inspections.
“Then we redid the kitchen. So really, this whole restaurant is a brand-new restaurant,” Dina said. “
Dina tore down her parents’ old house next-door to make room for the parking lot, but did manage to save several “artifacts” that now adorn the restaurant.
“It was difficult because there are memories,” she said. “You have Christmas and Thanksgiving, grandchildren who were brought up there. My son was brought up there, my mom helped to raise him. That was difficult.”
Her favorite is a chandelier that originally decorated her late mom’s dining room. It now hangs in the women’s bathroom, giving it a more elegant look.
“That’s her way of helping me decorate and she’s still here,” Dina said.
Just like everything else, the outdoor patio, when installed this fall, will be a labor of loving memory.
“It’s something we’ve always wanted to do, because it’s connected to one of my mom’s gardens,” explained Dina. “That’s the reason I look forward to it. First, it gives people a chance to sit out there and feel the cool breeze. My mother always planted herbs, fruit trees and vegetables. She always planted things that would give back. I want out customers to be able sit out there and relax, enjoy the food, and afterwards pick some fruit, need some green peppers or tomatoes—they’re welcome to take some.”
Dina explained that her mom always “had four separate gardens going in four separate locations” when she ran the South Toledo restaurant.
“I don’t quite have that energy that she had,” joked Dina. “We’ll just have the one—but it will be filled with tomatoes and peppers and garlic, cilantro and all kinds of herbs.”
El Tipico has passed the requisite inspections and will officially reopen with a ribbon-cutting on Sept. 20. 20 percent of the proceeds from the opening weekend will go to the Cedar Creek Car Clinic, a fund to help single moms and and low-income families within its congregation to avoid costly auto repairs while living paycheck-to-paycheck or in poverty.
The restaurant also will host a pair of soft openings. The first is an invitation-only event for employees, their families, supporters, and regular patrons on Sept. 18 from 5 to 9 p.m. The following day, El Tipico will host a fundraiser for the Spanish-American Organization scholarship fund, Wednesday, Sept. 19, also from 5 to 9 p.m. Both events will allow the restaurant's staff to perform a "dry run" so that El Tipico's well-known customer service enhances the dining experience as much as the fresh atmosphere and new menu.
“There are certain clientele who already know they’re on the list (for a soft opening),” she said with a laugh. “It depends on how big the bribe is. I’m accepting gifts. We’ve had people ask and say ‘Please make sure I’m on that list.’ That allows us to get all the kinks out, make sure we’re running everything in the kitchen smoothly.”
Dina has her entire original staff intact, despite several months closed for the renovations. She also plans to hire a few more to handle what she expects to be an influx of new customers. Her total employment will number up to a dozen.
“We’ve kept them employed for a few months, but these last two months they were not employed,” she said. “They’ve hung in there and they’re waiting because they want to come back. Our original plan was to keep them employed so a lot of the work we did together with our employees. They’re like family. They are family.”
While some of the restaurant makeover shows on TV only take two days to transform the menu and interior of an eatery, Dina has not had that quick turnaround. But she promises the wait will be worth it.
“I like to joke that it’s the newest, oldest Mexican restaurant in Toledo,” Dina said. “It’s kind of got a Mexican bistro feel to me. I know that’s French, but that’s how it feels to me. This has always been our home. I definitely appreciate anyone coming here, because it’s a destination place. We’re not located by Franklin Park or Levis Commons. The people who come here come because they appreciate our food and I want them to feel like they’re part of our family.”