The city of Maryville recently welcomed a new Mexican restaurant to the fold.
El Nopal joins an area with an already diverse selection of Mexican restaurants like El Maguey, Senor Burrito and fast food chains Taco Johns and Taco Bell.
While the restaurant faced numerous challenges on its way to opening, co-owner Ramiro Melendez said it has been surreal seeing El Nopal open.
“Everyone has been so nice to me here in Maryville,” Melendez said.
Melendez called the opening a soft opening. Despite not having any celebratory opening or announcement, the restaurant still attracted a large crowd of people on its first day of business.
The restaurant is one of three owned by the family’s corporation, with two other restaurants operating in Trenton and Bethany.
With both restaurants being in cities with small populations, Melendez and his family wanted to branch out into an intermediate sized city.
Melendez was working in Kansas City, when his brother asked him if he wanted to run the restaurant in town.
The Melendez family’s purchase required more work than any of them could have imagined when they bought it in December of 2017.
They initially intended for the restaurant to be open in early 2017. El Nopal’s debut ended up getting pushed back more than five times.
“Once we came in here and we saw the stuff, there was no way we were going to open when we wanted,” Melendez said. “We never thought it was going to be so challenging.”
The building’s entire north-facing wall would have to be replaced and extended as well as replacing the roof.
Just when things seemed to be back on track for a Cinco de Mayo grand opening, another dilemma arose.
“The company that we talked to for the chairs and tables said they would be here before May,” Melendez said. “But the chairs were nowhere, they were delayed months and we finally got them in August.”
Like many Mexican restaurants, the furniture is representative of Mexican culture, featuring bright, wood carved booths and tables.
Melendez said they’ve invested more than $200,000 into getting the restaurant open.
Thus far through the first 10 days, Melendez said business has exceeded expectations.
Rick and Kathy Swalley are two locals who recently ate at the restaurant after trying to when it first opened.
“We tried last week to get in, but it was so busy that we couldn't get in,” Kathy Swalley said. “We couldn't even get into the parking lot.”
Based on their experience, the wait was worth it.
“I’d give it a 10,” Kathy Swalley said. “The service was excellent too.”
Kathy Swalley tried the beef burrito special and Rick the shrimp chimichanga.
Their experience was an indication of the service that El Nopal aims to provide.
“We try to give great service, know the menus really well so we can give recommendations,” Melendez said.
Melendez said being flexible with customers and their orders has been key for the restaurant’s success.
Some of the restaurants most popular items include chicken and rice and the Burrito California, a foot-long burrito with french fries and grilled chicken.
Melendez said that what makes El Nopal stand out from many restaurants is its desire to interact and incorporate itself with the local community.
“I know there are a lot of people that put their restaurant down and are isolated from the community,” Melendez said. “We usually help schools… fundraisers for cancer, donations for events, we try to give back.”
Melendez said despite all the challenges, seeing the restaurant up and running has erased any doubts he ever had about getting the restaurant open.