Latino fusion restaurant emphasizes family atmosphere

By Joanna Aguirre

The dim, romantic lights hide all details of the soft light crimson and mustard sunset walls. Exotic salsa melodies dance into the ears of those dining at Escobar’s in Champaign.

“We wanted to go for a Latin feel, not too bright, but more Caribbean with an airy, open and comfortable feel,” said manager and owner, Jane Anderson.

Anderson opened the Latino fusion restaurant, at 6 E. Columbia Ave., in February 2007 along with her significant other and head chef, Obdulio Escobar. They are also co-owners of Urbana’s Milos, which opened in 1997.

The food is reminiscent of authentic Mexican food combined with Caribbean, Central and South American tastes. However, there is an Asian twist in a few of the menu choices.

The menu was created in five minutes by Escobar, a self-taught chef.

“He grew up in Guatemala and used those influences; he has a great food sense,” said Anderson. “It’s truly an art.”

“I started when I was 14, and it feels like it has been in me forever,” Escobar said. “I felt, like, if my mom could make great dishes with only a few ingredients, I could definitely come up with something here where everything is in abundance.”

Not only is the taste of the food a priority, but the focus on customers is attentive without becoming invasive while serving.

“We are all like a big family, they are all dear and near to us,” said Escobar. “Some work at other restaurants and say they can’t wait to come start their shift at ours.”

Escobar’s will not relocate any time soon, mostly because it is difficult to find good workers in other areas, said Escobar.

“Maybe much later in time we would consider moving to Chicago, but a major fantasy of mine is to move it to Mexico, that’s my dream,” he said.

The co-owners said they agreed not to create chains out of either of their restaurants for fear of losing their quality.

“Either me or Obdulio are at one of the restaurants making sure everything is being done right; we like to pay attention to every detail in our dishes and services,” said Anderson. “People expand too quickly and can’t make it the best it can be.”

With the hectic life of owning two restaurants, the owners try to make time for themselves.

“We have to close both restaurants on Mondays because that’s the only way we can get a day off,” chuckled Escobar. “I don’t want to put anyone down, but most other restaurants all taste and smell the same.”

Anderson and Escobar aren’t huge fans of advertising either, claiming it can seem a bit desperate.

“The best advertising is word of mouth; we like to concentrate on making our food memorable and making people feel welcome,” explained Anderson. “If our food and service is that good, people that dine here will spread the word.”

They are aware that some students can’t afford to dine there frequently because of the higher prices, which range from $20-$30 per main course, and a struggling economy, said Anderson. Escobar’s does offer an early bird dinner special from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. six days a week for approximately $12.

“The economy affects us all, within a few months the prices for corn and grain will rise,” said Escobar. “After the whole tomato scare, I had to pay twice as much to get some in here from other areas.”

At the end of the day, the pair enjoy their businesses and do it for the love of the art and not the money, said Anderson.

“This isn’t an easy industry to make money in, but it’s been in me since childhood, and it’s nice to live that dream,” said Escobar.