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Solea Mexican Grill  |  Menasha, WI

Solea Mexican Grill | Menasha, WI

A Long Winding Journey to Success

Just a decade ago, authentic recipes from the heart of Mexico weren’t considered the cherished culinary treasures they are today. Eduardo Sanchez remembers those days clearly.

His first Mexican restaurant in Menasha, Wisconsin, opened in 2006 with 13 tables and two employees. “We offered a small menu of very familiar dishes – lots of cheese burritos and chimichanga,” he says.

Fast forward to 2016, and Sanchez has three popular restaurants in Wisconsin. He employs 52 individuals, manages a bustling catering business, and satisfies a new generation of adventurous diners. “Now people are willing to try all sorts of new tastes and we make it exactly like we do in Mexico,” he relates. Customers relish the new and authentic, so Sanchez is able to serve ethnic dishes from the Yucatán such as red snapper with chimichurri sauce or salmon and shrimp al ajillo with pineapple pico de gallo, and experiment with different spices, slow roasted pork and mole sauce.

Menus that change quarterly give him the opportunity to highlight gourmet selections; a look at his latest edition shows just how much times have changed: Chile Relleno de Queso, a roasted poblano pepper stuffed with Chihuahua cheese and sweet corn and smothered in guajillo sauce; a burrito filled with slow cooked pork, Yucatán-style, finished in guajillo sauce, queso fresco and pickled red onions; and Baja fish tacos, made from haddock dipped in Negra Modelo (dark ale) and deep fried, served with fresh green salsa. It's not surprising that his restaurants are routinely packed, and year-to-year revenues up — no small feat in a place with restaurants opening “in every corner every six months,” says Sanchez.

“You can be in business now, but not next month,” he says. “We are trying to create a history by doing everything right on a daily basis, that’s the key to surviving.”

It starts with treating his diners like guests, and his employees like family. “We try to know every one of our employees, and 95 percent of our staff are still with us,” Sanchez reports proudly. Involved in the hiring of every new employee, he looks for people who delight in providing service, reflecting his zeal for the hospitality industry. “My job is to bring people to the restaurant, and their job is to keep people coming back,” he says.

His own journey reflects that lifelong passion. “The way I grew up, all our important events were around food. I couldn’t think of anything else I’d rather do.” So it made perfect sense that when he moved from Veracruz to Wisconsin in 1995, his first job was as a dishwasher at a small restaurant called Tumbleweed in Appleton. When Sanchez went back years later, after the successful launch of his restaurants in Menasha (2006) and Neenah (2008), he noticed the place was vacant. In 2010, he opened his third, and largest restaurant, Solea Mexican Grill, with 500 square feet of space for 280 diners…and traveled full circle from his first dishwasher job in the U.S. to thriving restaurant operator.

Still, Sanchez takes none of it for granted. Rather than rely just on word of mouth, he invests money in newspaper and magazine ads, email marketing campaigns and radio spots. Social media is also skillfully used, with active promotion on Facebook of events like the always-sold-out gourmet Tequila dinners. And he seizes every opportunity he can to contribute to the community that welcomed him so warmly two decades ago.

“I always call people if they’re struggling or in need of a fundraiser. They can come here and I’ll donate all that night’s profits to the cause. I believe we’re in business because this is a great community, so whenever I can give something back, I do.”

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