EAST COUNTY — As he pushes teal and orange chairs around tables on the patio of his new Mexican restaurant on State Road 70, Mexicali Border Café, Operations Manager Joe Martin, or “Taco Joe,” looks up after hearing the sound of car horns.
A white SUV, full of passengers who wave their hands affectionately out of their car windows, passes by.
The business owner, a Navy veteran, smiles and waves back.
“This will be the last job I ever have,” Martin says, smiling. “I love it.”
Martin and Marshall Kottler, whom his golf friends and 3-year-old granddaughter, Tierney, affectionately call “Papa Taco,” are becoming familiar faces in the East County, after opening their newest Mexicali Nov. 22. Of the restaurant’s three locations, two are in Bradenton and are run by the men. The third restaurant, the original Mexicali Kottler opened in 1986, is located in Oklahoma.
After hearing customers from the Cortez Road location repeatedly mention they wanted a Mexicali “out east,” the men decided to give the people what they wanted.
Martin, a 15-year East County resident, and Kottler agreed a location near the interstate, closer to east Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch, would be a positive next step.
With nostalgic Mexican signage and photographs in place on brightly painted walls, the staff trained, and plates and glassware stocked and ready for use, the men couldn’t wait to open the doors for business; however, they experienced a six-week delay while they waited for wood to build a large patio.
Today, as the restaurant heads into its nearly second month open and locals become familiar with the restaurant’s cooked-from-scratch Mexican food, the partners notice more families visiting the new location.
“Here, they’ve gotta go take their kids to dance and baseball practice,” Martin says. “We offer that fast, easy option for those families. Or, if you want a leisurely lunch, we can do that, too.”
With each location, the duo changes things slightly, to avoid having cookie-cutter versions of the same product. The Oklahoma branch, for example, fills a 1907 warehouse, while the S.R. 70 spot is nestled on the end of a plaza. The decor in each location is similar, but the setup is always different, as well.
Although the men hope to open more locations throughout the state, for now, they continue to work on getting more involved in the community by participating in and hosting charity events and attracting patrons to the catering portion of their business.
As the friends-turned-partners stand on their patio, they survey their finished product.
“We built this company up through word of mouth,” Kottler says. “We built it one customer at a time.”
ABOUT THE OWNERS
Marshall Kottler and Joe Martin are both grandfathers who moved to Florida from the Midwest. Both men grew up near Chicago, but didn’t meet until about 10 years ago when a mutual friend introduced them. A long-standing friendship and two businesses resulted from that first meeting.
Kottler demonstrates working up the ladder in an industry. He started in the restaurant business as a host at a Mexican restaurant while he attended college in the ’70s in Texas. In the late ’80s, he decided to open his own restaurant. Now, his son, Paul, acts as the assistant manager of the S.R. 70 location; Kottler hopes his son will follow in his footsteps.
Martin also brings years of restaurant experience to the table. He served as the general manager for Don Pablo’s for more than 22 years. The fresh food and his friendship with Kottler drew him to the Mexicali brand more than 10 years ago, Martin said.
+ Ryder Bikes opens location
Ryder Bikes has made its way to East County.
The store celebrated a grand opening Jan. 11, for its new location at 5275 University Parkway, Unit 135.
Located in the same plaza as Fresh Market and Kohl’s, the full-service bicycle shop encompasses a 4,500-square-foot space. The store also includes an area for repairs and a fitting center to ensure customers take home bikes that fit properly.
Ryder Bikes also has locations on Cortez Road, in Bradenton, and Dolphin Street, in Sarasota. For more information on store hours and locations, visit ryderbikes.com.
Contact Amanda Sebastiano at [email protected]