Dining A La King: Sometimes family wins instead of a restaurant

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Marshall V. King/Flavor574

Restaurants are really more like rock bands than a conventional business.

A group comes together to work in harmony. Sometimes, you hit the big time. Sometimes, you hit the skids. And sometimes, the band breaks up just because it was hard to keep the group together or because of how much stress it put on the family.

When Jose Rios announced ModMex would close after business Saturday, Sept. 26, you could almost hear the collective wail of “nooooooooo” erupt from the fans.

When George and Tammy Pesek announced they were closing Corndance Cafe and Evil Czech Brewery in Culver, where they got their start in northern Indiana, fans lamented the loss of the small-town locations.

MODMEX CREW SAYING GOODBYE

Rios started ModMex with friends and family nearly four years ago at 1700 Toledo Road. Octavio Rios, Jose’s father, had at least part ownership of the building and that allowed Jose, fresh out of Indiana University, to go into the restaurant business with modern, fusion Mexican recipes.

Not everything was modern. The guacamole recipe, with just six simple ingredients, is about as classic as it gets and I’ll be forever grateful to have learned how to make it.

The interior had some modern touches, but showed its age and the wear of being a former DAV and previous restaurants.

In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever seen customers who love a place lobby as heavily for a restaurant to move downtown. In this case, both fans in Goshen and Elkhart wanted it in one of those downtowns.

The food was always amazing. There were issues with the liquor license at times and that put off some folks who wanted a margarita with that guacamole.

I’ve often said the best restaurants, at least in our area, are the ones where you often find one of the owners there working or greeting customers — or even both.

Rios’ family, including his parents, were there working, but he’d started working on his career. And now that his parents are ready to retire to Mexico where they built a house, he said he’s not able to spend the time he needs to keep the place going.

“Life changes. Sometimes, you just have to let some things go to get other opportunities in life,” he said.

He wanted to end on a good note with the customers who had been good to their family.

They could have sold the place, even to a stranger. I think in the right hands, someone could take the recipes and open a downtown spot that would do really well. But that person would risk balancing the potential success with being compared to the original. “It’s just not the same” has been the death of good restaurants.

For now, after a few more nights of business, the restaurant will be a memory unless something changes.

PESEKS MOVE FOCUS TO MISHAWAKA 

In Culver, George and Tammy Pesek bought a bar and opened it as a higher-end establishment in 1999. A few years ago, they expanded to Mishawaka, taking an independent restaurant in the Grape Road web of chains. Last year, they added a brewery in Mishawaka.

Those two places, Corndance Tavern and Evil Czech, have been successful. They’ve done really well.

Pesek said he was working 20 to 30 hours a week in Culver to keep the restaurant and brewery going there. When we visited in May on a bus trip, he was in the kitchen because there’d been a staff change that week. I don’t know what happened, but Pesek had been thrown into cooking again.

Pesek, whose nickname is “Evil Czech,” is a demanding man to work for. He said he’s struggled to find good staff in Culver. But he wants to focus on quality and the brand they’ve built.

Some have accused the Peseks on social media of being disloyal to the town where they started.

I don’t live there. I don’t know all the history. Tammy Pesek responded by saying it’s heartbreaking to close that place.

To accuse disloyalty is such an interesting sentiment and shows how people come to feel part of a place.

If closing the restaurant in Culver, if using the brewery to make beer but not as a bar to serve the public helps the businesses grow in Mishawaka, I see it as a positive thing. If the Peseks avoid burnout and have a better quality of life, that just seems to be good for everyone.

Restaurants owe us good food, service and atmosphere as long as they can sustain it or choose to. That’s what we pay them to do. But a restaurant owner does not owe the customer more than he owes his family. It’s a hard business, one that can take a toll, and doing it well is tough work.

Restaurants come and go. Ones we love don’t stay forever. If someone is honest that they really want to spend more time with family and it’s not just a lie someone tells to avoid the truth, I can’t fault them. It just sounds healthy to me.

I’ll take that over closing by texting employees to tell them they’re done, by not putting a sign on the door, by not saying goodbye to customers. And I’ll take it over a “closed for remodeling” sign when there’s nothing happening inside anymore.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Editor’s note: Corndance Cafe is in Culver and Corndance Tavern is in Mishawaka. We apologize for a mistake that created confusion.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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