By Melody Vallieu
For Miami Valley Today
TROY — The American dream became a reality for a county resident who is celebrating three decades of restaurant ownership.
Despite challenges, Ruben Martinez Pelayo, who came to the U.S. at 17 and became a dishwasher in a Seattle restaurant, has shown that hard work and perseverance truly do pay, giving this immigrant his own “piece of America.”
Pelayo, along with a friend, first opened a Mexican restaurant in North Olmsted, Ohio, in 1993 called Nuevo Acapulco. The restaurant offered authentic Mexican fare.
In 1995, Pelayo, along with his American “Mom” and business manager Judy Rose, now deceased, opened a new Mexican restaurant in Troy called El Sombrero. The restaurant would fall victim to a fire just 14 months later when the Days Inn in Troy went up in flames. A new Piqua location in the HoJo Inn would be found and later that restaurant would be moved to the shopping plaza just down the road, but was later closed in 2015. A new Troy location also would be re-opened in the former Orchard Tavern in 1998, where the sole restaurant remains today.
Pelayo, who became a U.S. citizen in 1997, quickly became ingrained in Miami County, something he learned from his mother, Teresa. Pelayo said one time a year in their Mexican town of Ayutla, his mother would make food and invite anyone in the community in need to her door for a meal. Pelayo said he promised her he would continue her legacy, even after coming to the U.S.
“I knew that I wanted to help other people less fortunate than myself,” Pelayo, who is currently facing some health challenges, said in a 2000 article. “Later, when I was 17 and came to the United States and started working in the Mexican restaurants in Seattle, I knew if I could own a restaurant, that I would be able to help more people.”
And, help he does, donating food to local soup kitchens monthly and starting the annual free traditional Thanksgiving meal, which has been held every year since El Sombrero’s inception, despite several roadblocks.
Along the way, Pelayo has racked up a pile of awards for his giving spirit, including the 2003 40 Under 40 from the Dayton Business Journal, the Troy Sertoma Club’s 2005 Mankind award, grand marshal of Troy’s Grand Illumination and Strawberry Festival, the American Red Cross’ Humanitarian of the Year and the Troy-Hayner Cultural Center’s Unity in the Community award, among others.
The annual Thanksgiving dinner also continues to feed thousands a traditional meal. During and since the COVID-19 pandemic, the meals were passed out in a drive-through erected throughout the restaurant’s parking lot. Pelayo believes the drive through meal reaches more people than the sit-down dining, and has continued passing out the to-go dinners. This year’s dinner will be from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 23, at 1700 N. County Road 25-A, Troy.
“I just want to thank everyone in Miami County,” Pelayo said from his Covington home. “They have all been so kind to me and I really appreciate it. Without everyone, I wouldn’t have been successful.”
Winter 1993 — Nuevo Acapulco opens in North Olmsted, owned by Ruben Pelayo and Roberto Ramirez
Aug. 31, 1995 — Pelayo moves restaurant to Days Inn, 1610 W. Main St., Troy, renaming the restaurant El Sombrero
Nov. 23, 1995 — Staff offer the first free Thanksgiving Day meal to the community
Nov. 11, 1996 — Fire destroys the Days Inn, including the El Sombrero restaurant
Nov. 28, 1996 — Despite losing the restaurant in the fire, El Sombrero staff and volunteers prepare and serve the second Thanksgiving dinner at the Moose lodge, Troy, which was donated for the meal for the day
March 2, 1997 — El Sombrero reopens in Piqua in the HoJo Inn, 902 Scot Drive, and later moves to a shopping plaza on East Ash Street in Piqua.
Dec. 18, 1997 — A native of Ayutla, Jalisco, Mexico, Pelayo receives his U.S. citizenship
Nov. 11, 1998 — The former Orchard Tavern on County Road 25-A, Troy, is purchased and becomes the second location of El Sombrero restaurant
September 2015 — The East Ash Street location in Piqua is closed
2023 — Pelayo celebrates 30 years of restaurant ownership