The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Local News

January 18, 2014

Wally Kennedy: Brisk business at new El Vaquero

JOPLIN, Mo. — Gerardo “Francisco” Villasenor wasn’t exactly caught up in a crossfire hurricane on Friday, but it was pretty close.

Villasenor was spinning like a top as he gave marching orders and instructions to more than 12 cooks in the kitchen of El Vaquero, which had its opening on Friday at 2412 S. Main St.

I’m in the business of using words to describe things. I don’t know how to describe what I observed in El Vaquero’s kitchen on Friday. I think controlled chaos describes it best.

These folks know how to get the job done and get it done fast. You could tell they were happy to be working. The fact that they would be tasked over the next few hours to work at full tilt was irrelevant. It was amazing to watch.

The new El Vaquero is totally different from the one that existed before the tornado. Its exterior design is traditional. Its interior design is traditional too, but it almost feels modern.

Make sure to check out the fans on the walls and ceilings, and at the entrance. Also make sure to check out the art. I think it’s an extraordinary blend of colors, and of old and new.

“We tried to do the best we can,” said Villasenor, the manager. “And we had a good builder.”

The builder was Alden “Trace” Hawke, with Franchise Builders & Consultants Inc., of Joplin. It took about 100 days to construct the restaurant, which was designed to hold about 250 people by Hunter & Millard Architects, of Joplin.

Servers there have three work stations to cover distinct zones within the restaurant. The restaurant has one person who does nothing but make fresh tortillas and guacamole. A space is designated just for that, and there’s a window where you can watch this food preparer work.

The restaurant also has a bar with large-screen TVs. It did not appear that the bar was open on Friday.

For Sonja Tucci, the opening of the restaurant on Friday was bittersweet. She’s the long-haul trucker who set up the “We want El Vaquero back” page on Facebook after the tornado.

Her effort and those of others helped convince Villasenor and his partners to rebuild at the same site.

However, on Friday, Tucci was in Grand Rapids, Mich., where she was picking up a student for training as an over-the-road truck driver.

“I’m coming back to Joplin on the 31st of January. You can bet that’s where I’m going as soon as I get home,” she said. “I’ve already planned for my birthday to be there in March.

“My mom went there today (Friday), and she said it’s beautiful inside,” Tucci said.

Tucci said she grew up on the West Coast and that she likes a certain kind of Mexican food. She said El Vaquero met that standard. But there’s another reason why Tucci liked this restaurant.

“I’m a truck driver. I’m overweight. I get treated a little different because of that,” she said. “I felt welcome when I went in there. I could be having a bad day, and it didn’t matter. I was a person there.

“Out there on the road, we don’t get treated very nice. El Vaquero was relaxing. It was like I belonged there. They were happy to see you. I can’t wait to get back.”

Also excited about the return of El Vaquero was one of the restaurant’s neighbors, Tint N More, 2230 S. Main St. On its exterior sign, Tint N More said, “Welcome back El Vaquero. Smells great.”

When I visited the restaurant on Friday, it was just too busy for me to eat lunch. I’ll do that when things settle down a bit. Motorists and pedestrians should use extra caution around the restaurant at this time because people are parking wherever they can find a spot. Expect to encounter some traffic congestion. Watch for emerging vehicles.

And for the guy or gal who decided to park on the sidewalk on Friday, I don’t think that’s legal.

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