LITCHFIELD -- Customers have been crowding into the new Sonora's Mexican bar and restaurant in Litchfield for the past month.
"They say they've been waiting for this kind of restaurant," owner Juan Perez said as he sat in a booth after a lunch hour last week.
The customers also like that it's a local restaurant, he said. A previous Mexican restaurant at the same U.S. Highway 12 location had closed some time ago.
The building was remodeled to accommodate two businesses, Sonora's and Jimmy's Pizza, which was able to add a dining room by moving into the building.
The restaurant is named Sonora's after Perez's home area, the state of Sonora, Mexico, which borders Arizona.
The food in his restaurant is authentic to his home area, "not too spicy, good flavor," he said. If people want their food spicier, Sonora's will oblige.
When he first moved to this country, it was hard to find hot peppers and Mexican foods in grocery stores, he said, but that has changed.
"People more and more want food spicy," he said.
Perez said his customers like the spicy cheese topping Sonora's put on some of its dishes, as well as the green sauce made of tomatillos. Perez and his wife, Rosa, do the cooking.
A popular entre is Enchiladas Suizas, four chicken enchiladas covered in cheese sauce and green sauce. Another is the Jalisco Special, steak, chicken and shrimp with peppers and tomatoes, on a bed of rice with cheese sauce on top. Tamales are popular, too.
Perez, 50, has lived in the United States since 1985 and in Litchfield for 17 years. He used to work in the poultry business and decided to start selling food as a side business.
Eventually the catering business outgrew their home. About 10 years ago, he said, he tried to buy kitchen equipment from a restaurant closing in Hutchinson. The owner of the building preferred to keep the equipment with the building, and that led to the first Sonora's.
He smiled as he described how things went at first. His kids helped, "but they didn't have much experience," he said. Customers were "pretty nice" about any missteps they may have made, he said, and they kept coming back.
"People love Mexican food," he said.
They decided they could handle a second restaurant, but getting the Litchfield Sonora's off the ground has still been a lot of work. In the first days, "you sleep maybe three or four hours and come back to the restaurant," he said. Sonora's is open seven days a week.
The family and building owner Steve Knisley worked for more than four months to prepare the building for its opening. It's decorated with old barn wood and solid wood tabletops Perez made himself. They also built a short dividing wall between restaurant booths and the bar area.
"I'm not a professional," Perez said, but he's pleased with how his tabletops and the rest of the restaurant turned out. This spring, they'll put tables on the patio in front of the building.
"It's a neat project, and it turned out real nice," Knisley said in a telephone interview.
The building is across the highway from a strip mall he and his partner own. Over the years it has been an Eagles Club and housed two different Mexican restaurants which both closed, he said.
The Perezes approached him about the building because they knew the business traffic would be there.
"At that point, I wasn't a Mexican food fan," Knisley said, but he was sold on the idea after visiting the Hutchinson restaurant.
The Litchfield building was in bad shape, Knisley said, but the Perez family "took a leap of faith."
They worked together to strip layers of wall and floor coverings and to replace kitchen equipment and electrical systems.
Both of his tenants are happy with their business traffic so far, he said, and people seem to like the atmosphere. He plans to plant shrubbery this spring to provide a natural barrier between the patio and Highway 12.