By Eamon Baird
TROY — El Sombrero Restaurant is reopening its doors and continuing traditions under new ownership.
The restaurant had been temporarily closed after an oven fire damaged the kitchen in October. This occurred just days before Ruben Pelayo, the restaurant’s owner and founder, passed away on Oct. 27.
Luis and Jen Rodriguez are now stepping into the roles of owner-operators of the restaurant. The married couple was uncertain at first about the future of the restaurant in the wake of the fire.
“In the beginning, we didn’t know if we were going to need to close down,” Luis Rodriguez said.
“It was stressful knowing that we hadn’t had any work for a while. We’ve worked here for so many years. So, we didn’t know what to do with ourselves,” Jen Rodriguez added.
The couple have especially appreciated customer and community members’ support and well wishes over the last three months.
“The community really stands behind Ruben. And then we’ve had a lot of people say that they were grateful that we were the ones that we’re going to take it over because I’ve been here for 18 years, and Luis has been here for 25 years,” Jen said.
The restaurant passed final health inspections on Wednesday, Jan. 17, and then had a soft-opening relaunch the following weekend. Luis worked an 18-hour day for the reopening, cooking food exactly how Pelayo used to prepare it.
“He was putting together all of our recipes using that little special black book that has secret recipes for every sauce, salsa, and marinating the meat,” Jen said. “We’re never changing the menu. This is Ruben’s legacy and we’re going to keep it that way all the way through.”
“Later on, we might add a couple of things, but so far, it will stay the same,” Luis added.
“I think that’s what sets us aside is everything from boiling the beans to the way that everything’s made from scratch. Ruben’s recipes are all truly authentic, and everything is fresh,” Jen said.
To celebrate the official relaunch, the restaurant plans to offer drink specials from 5 p.m. to close on Friday, Jan. 26. On Saturday, Jan. 27; the restaurant will offer free appetizers, including mini nachos and quesadillas, for happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m., as a thank you to the community.
Despite being closed for over three months, the restaurant retained almost its entire staff.
I think everything went smoothly all weekend and the food came out quickly,” Jen said. “I was worried about the kitchen being overwhelmed and getting the food together, but they were really on it. They’ve done a wonderful job back there.”
One legacy the restaurant will continue is the annual free Thanksgiving meal. Last year, because of the fire, this meal was forced to switch locations to St. Patrick’s Soup Kitchen. Luis and Jen look forward to serving the meal for the community again at their restaurant.
“That’s something that Ruben wanted, and it’s not going to change,” Jen said.
El Sombrero Restaurant is open seven days a week from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is located at 1700 N. County Road 25A, in Troy; it can be reached by calling 937-339-2100.