BY SUE WEBBER
Customers were waiting outside the door when the Fiesta Cancun Bar and Grill in Brooklyn Park opened for business on a recent Friday morning.
It’s been like that ever since the Mexican restaurant opened on June 3 in Edinburgh Plaza, according to manager Elena Ruelas.
“We’ve been busy, busy, busy every single day since we opened,” Ruelas said. “We have a Facebook page and we’re getting good comments. We have good food and we’re getting good customers.”
The restaurant offers a large menu of Mexican specialties, including quesadillas, fajitas, tacos, burritos, enchiladas and molcajetes. It also includes steak, pork and seafood dishes, as well as hamburgers, soups and salads, appetizers, desserts and vegetarian offerings.
“The guys in the kitchen try to make their own tastes,” Ruelas said.
Elena Ruelas and her husband, Angel, came to the U.S. from Mexico 12 years ago and settled in Atlanta, where they both worked in sales for a restaurant supply company. The couple had been looking for a location to open their own Mexican restaurant since moving to the Twin Cities 18 months ago.
“My husband is always driving everywhere for his job,” Ruelas said. “He saw a ‘for lease’ sign here, called the company, we looked at it and liked it.”
Once she and her husband chose the site for their restaurant, Ruelas said, Angel and his partners remodeled the space and installed all the equipment in the restaurant.
Fiesta Cancun has 11 booths and six tables, as well as seating at a complete bar in the front.
But even before they opened for business in Brooklyn Park, the couple realized they’d need more room. An expansion is underway next door that will double the size of the restaurant. It is expected to be ready within a month.
“We needed a room for big parties,” Ruelas said. “The bar will be twice the size it is now.”
Angel Ruelas and a business colleague maintain additional Mexican restaurants in Cloquet and Duluth. And they’re working to open a second Twin Cities location in Eagan.
“We have kids and we’re young; it’s the right time,” Ruelas said. The couple has two sons, ages 3 and 7.
Connections through their restaurant-supply business dealings – as well as friends and family – offered a plethora of potential employees, Ruelas said, so it wasn’t hard to assemble a roster of about a dozen experienced employees to staff the Brooklyn Park location.
Most are bilingual. The one cook who is American is in the process of learning Spanish, Ruelas said.
That cook, Branden Welch, said he began as a dishwasher at the Ruelas’ restaurant in Cloquet, Minn., and worked his way up to cook. He was the head cook at Mexican Lindo for two years before coming to Fiesta Cancun in Brooklyn Park.
Asked about his favorite dishes on the new restaurant’s extensive menu, Welch singled out Montezuma Molcajete and Parillada Mexicana fajitas.
“The Alambres are the bomb,” he said.
As for Ruelas, she said one of her favorites is Lindo’s Special, a blend of steak, chicken and shrimp cooked with onions, green, yellow and red bell peppers, mushrooms and tomatoes over a bed of rice, covered with cheese sauce.
She believes the secret to the restaurant’s success is that the staff are all friends, and they try to transfer that to the customers who come in the doors.
“I keep telling the staff that these are not just your customers; they will be your friends,” Ruelas said. “I tell them that if people have a good time with you here, they will come back.”
Ruelas said she enjoys spending a little bit of time with each customer, at each table.
“I love talking with the customers; I pay attention to what they tell me,” she said.
Fiesta Cancun doesn’t have job openings now, even though they have received a lot of applications from local residents. But once the restaurant expands, Ruelas said, they will be hiring again.
Fiesta Cancun, 1408 85th Ave. N., Brooklyn Park, is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. Take out and catering are available.