In a time when restaurants seem to come and go — sometimes rapidly — Casa Fiesta runs contrary to the trend.
Located in a colorful building at 801 Louisville Road and Leawood Drive that originally housed Frankfort’s first McDonald’s, Casa will celebrate its 24th anniversary on Derby Day.
Jose Chavez is the owner. He credits the restaurant’s staying power to one thing — in addition to an outstanding menu.
“Our loyal customers,” says Chavez, 47, whose family owns more than 20 Mexican restaurants.
“We have a lot in Tennessee,” he said, sitting at a booth in his restaurant. “The restaurants are called La Fiesta in other areas.”
Chavez came to the United States in 1984 to cook in one of his family’s restaurants. A decade later he moved to Frankfort to open Casa Fiesta. He’s originally from Michoacan, Mexico, a small town in the country’s southwest.
He says he likes the small-town feel of Frankfort, especially after his years in Atlanta.
“It’s a pretty place.”
The Casa Gang
One group of loyal customers whose members call themselves “The Casa Gang” gathers each weekday from 5-7 p.m. on the patio — when the weather permits. Their reason for coming — beyond the fellowship — is simple:
“Jose takes care of us,” Herb Sheetinger said. “He pushes tables together and covers them with a table cloth. We would never consider going anywhere else.”
All members of the Gang are retired, and the size of the gathering ranges from four to 19. “People come and go,” said Jay Burdick. “We never know who or how many will be here.”
“There are just a lot of good things about this place,” Mike Wood said, and his fellow “gang” members agreed. “The hospitality, good food, fun and fellowship.”
Regular customers, other than just members of the group, are a testament to the restaurant’s quality since they come back again and again.
“Sometimes we have people who eat here twice in the same day,” said Chavez, laughing.
Chavez says a lot of high school — and former high school — students come to the restaurant to meet, eat and hang out. Many remember it as a favorite place when they were students in Frankfort and reunite at the restaurant.
Every customer has his or her favorite, but Chavez says one tops all the rest.
“Ronda’s special is the most popular. It’s grilled chicken breast smothered in melted queso cheese. It’s the most popular with the high school kids, too,” he said.
And the most popular drink?
“The margarita by far,” he says. There’s even a sign on the wall that says, “A day without margaritas is like a day without sunshine.”
Near it, there’s a facsimile of a license plate. The inscription: “Mi-CASA-SU-CASA.”
Chavez employs more than 20 people at Casa, and he says there’s not much turnover — a testament to it being as good of a place to work as to eat.
“Most of the staff has been here at least eight years,” he said. “My main cook has been with me for 23 years, and the second cook for 22. A lot of workers have been here 20 years. My brother Fernando works with me here, too.
“A lot of people who worked here have left and then came back. I have to be nice to them if I don’t want to do their job,” he said, laughing.
Chavez, who comes from a family of 12, including mom and dad, said he has no formal culinary training. “I just grew up on good Mexican eating and that’s what I want to bring to Frankfort.”
Casa is open from 10 a.m.-11 p.m. seven days a week. Menu items are moderately priced and there’s a special lunch menu. The patio is heated and open except during the coldest times. With the patio, Chavez says he can seat about 190 diners.
For a perfect start to a great meal, Casa Fiesta owner Jose Chavez recommends the shrimp ceviche. This delicious, chilled shrimp appetizer is a recipe from his hometown in Mexico. He said it’s popular along the coast of Mexico.
“It’s my favorite. I love shrimp,” Chavez said.
Ingredients: (makes four servings)
Pound and half of shrimp, raw and chopped
4 limes fresh squeezed
1 sweet white or purple onion
4 or 5 roma tomatoes
1 bunch cilantro
1 jalapeno pepper
salt to taste
*Optional: cucumber or mango
Allow the shrimp to soak in lime juice for 20 to 30 minutes or until it turns white. Once it’s white, mix in the onion, tomatoes, cilantro and peppers.
Serve with avocado, crackers or chips on the side.
Casa Fiesta’s margarita offers a real taste of Mexico. With a recipe that’s authentic to what’s used in Mexico, the margarita is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage on the menu.
2 ounces of sweet and sour concentrate
1.5 ounces of tequila
½ ounce triple sec
1 ounce orange juice
2 ounces Squirt
6 ounces of water
Mix the ingredients into a shaker and shake. Serve over ice or blend. If blended, add three more ounces of sweet and sour mix.
Rim the glass with salt and a slice of lime.