Sabor Latino’s loyal customers have not only followed the restaurant as it has moved and expanded twice, some have even moved tables and refrigerators.
Fanny Ruiz de Chavez, a native of Venezuela, opened Sabor Latino in a tiny space on Independence Square in 2011. It was carryout only, and Ruiz de Chavez and her mother, Teresa Stredel, were the sole employees.
Two years later, they had outgrown the space and moved the restaurant to a larger location with a dining room on U.S. 40. In July, they moved and expanded again, taking a space at 607 N.E. Woods Chapel Road in Lee’s Summit, just west of Missouri 291.
Customers helped load and unload the big items for the move, such as tables and chairs, even two refrigerators and two freezers. One customer painted the floor of the new restaurant. Another reupholstered the dining room chairs.
“It is nice that you see so many people helping, putting their ideas in the places they go to eat,” said Ruiz de Chavez, who had formerly worked at Cerner Corp.
Longtime customer Bill Cowden, former owner of Don Chilito’s Mexican Restaurant in Mission, lives about 3 miles from the new Sabor Latino and has been a mentor since the U.S. 40 restaurant. He offers advice on everything from the best place to buy an ice machine to how to make sweet jalapeños.
“She had a dream of acquainting people with her native food. But I did speak to her that she might need to make a profit,” Cowden said. “I like the people who have the courage to go do that and a dream. I will do all I can to help them. And I like her food.”
Sabor Latino is a Latin American restaurant serving such items as platano relleno, enchiladas, chimichangas, grilled tilapia, tacos and flautas, as well as fresh fruit drinks, margaritas and beer. One of its customers came up with the idea for the Baleada Wrap (chicken, rice, refried beans, seasoned sour cream and cheese).
The new Lee’s Summit location also is serving new items such as the Mar y Tierra with shrimp, chicken, beef, tomatoes, onion, green pepper, avocado and grilled pineapple.
Ruiz de Chavez also has expanded her staff.
Earlier this year, she was at Kansas City International Airport, surrounded by people who were crying because their loved ones were leaving. She was crying — happily — because her brother, Julio Stredel, and his family were coming to stay. She had been waiting for that day for 13 years.
“He told me, ‘Hold on as long as you can,’” Ruiz de Chavez said.
Now the siblings, as well as Stredel’s wife, Yosybel, work at the restaurant full time, along with two other employees.
Fatima Lazo, a native of El Salvador, oversees the kitchen and specializes in the production of a traditional Salvadoran dish called pupusa (a handmade corn tortilla with different fillings) and soups including black bean and shrimp. Marisol Calero, a native of Mexico, oversees the sauces and dishes such as tamales and enchiladas.
Occasionally they get help from Ruiz de Chavez’s husband, Alfredo, also a native of Mexico, along with her mother. Customers say the restaurant takes on a familial feel, as if they are dining in the Ruiz de Chavez family’s home.
“People who go there, they pretty much become regulars,” Cowden said.