Local restaurateurs honor their past, keep an eye toward the future
Bumping along in a pock-marked and dented Cadillac pelted by stones and loose gravel on narrow roads to who knows where. Being chased by angry dogs. Sleeping in the car. Accidentally happening upon ancient cave paintings. Getting stuck in a river in a remote locale deep inside Mexico…
Adventures like these sound like they might have been pulled from the memoirs of an Indiana Jones-like archaeologist/treasure hunter in search of gold. In truth, these tales belong to a family of local restaurateurs in search of silver.
As 2012 comes to a close, Olamendi’s Mexican Restaurant will celebrate its 40th anniversary by going back to basics with their original restaurant concept while taking steps toward the future by adding their own brand of a new spirit—Olamendi’s Ultra Premium Silver Organic Tequila.
Although restaurant founders Jorge Sr. and Maria Olamendi have amassed four decades worth of memories since opening their first location in San Clemente in 1973 then moving to their current Dana Point-Capistrano Beach location in 1976, the couple regard the last 15 years as some of the most memorable.
The past decade and a half was filled with memories made while realizing Jorge Sr.’s dream of producing his own brand of tequila.
“The experiences we had in search of a source for our Silver tequila were far out,” said a chuckling Jorge Sr. “We had so many great adventures exploring Mexico. I even had to learn how to ride a horse. Quickly.”
Jorge Sr. went on to tell a story of being in the saddle for the first time when the horse suddenly took off.
“I had no idea what I was supposed to do. I just held on for dear life and managed to stay on,” he said, adding that the family’s search held many more exciting and inspiring times. “In the end, we found what we were looking for and now, just in time for our 40th anniversary, we are proud to bring our high quality spirit to our local customers, the U.S. and the world.”
When Jorge Sr. first hatched the Olamendi’s Tequila idea, he was careful to set the same high standards for the product as he and Maria had set for their food since the beginning and vowed to let the process take as long as necessary.
The couple’s now grown five children, Raquel, Jorge Jr., Gloria, Oscar and Esmeralda spent their childhoods growing up in their parents’ restaurant business. They too, took part in the travel and adventure of their parents as the family spent years visiting agave plantations, manufacturing facilities and cantinas in the Mexican states of Guanajuato, Michoacán and Jalisco.
“We looked and looked until we found an organic farm. When I tasted their product, I knew I found what I was looking for,” Jorge Sr. said. “The tequila made from their agave was smooth. It didn’t need lime or salt or anything to chase it.”
Maria agreed, saying that she is not usually a fan of the burning sensation many tequilas deliver to the mouth and throat.
“It was like a different sensation,” she said. “It felt nice and warm and the purity was very obvious to me.”
The Olamendis entered a partnership with a manufacturer in Jalisco to produce their own brand made with the organic agave and began testing many batches of recipes created through trial and error before finding the one they have since put their name on.
“Nothing but the best for our friends,” said Jorge Sr.
And with that, Olamendi’s Tequila became the newest addition to the family’s line of gourmet foods and beverages they started in 2008.
While day-to-day operations in the restaurant are now handled mainly by Esmeralda and Oscar and the gourmet food line is led by Jorge Jr., Maria and Jorge Sr. still work in the restaurant every day.
“I have to open the door every morning and check that everything in the kitchen is OK every day too,” said Jorge Sr.
“Don’t let him fool you, ‘checking’ is code for taste testing,” joked Oscar. “It’s true though. I have never in my 28 years ever seen him take a day off. Even in our travels he is constantly working—looking for decorations, furniture and inspiration for our product line.”
The family regards their product line–which includes salsas, chips, organic coffee, beer and wine—as a large and important part of the future of their company, but they also acknowledge that with regard to the family restaurant, a “back to basics” strategy was needed to successfully lead the business into the next 40 years.
By 2009 the Olamendis were operating three restaurants in Dana Point—the location dubbed “original Olamendi’s” on Coast Highway, a more gourmet version of the restaurant in Monarch Beach and a taco shop near Doheny Beach.
In the past year, the family closed all but the original.
As the launch of the tequila neared, the family said they realized a need, not only to come up with extra funding to push it forward but also to redirect their attention to the mainstay of what has kept their business thriving for so long—the original Olamendi’s location and their devoted following of loyal customers.
“We realized we really are content with our longtime clientele here at the one and only original Olamendi’s restaurant. We love our customers like family, so the decision to close the other two restaurants just made more sense to us,” Oscar said.
(The two other Olamendi’s restaurants in the area, operated by extended family, remain in business.)
So rather than expanding by operating multiple locations and trying to replicate more locations elsewhere, they made a decision as a business and a family to concentrate on the original location and developing new products for their line.
Esmeralda called the plan “the best of both worlds” since it meant the family would be able to share a taste of their culture nationally and beyond while still devoting the attention that our local customers deserve.
“From our family to yours, we are happy to share the fruits of our labor. Salud!” Esmeralda said, toasting her parents and the business they built together.
Maria says she reflects fondly on the family’s 40 successful years and is excited by what the future holds.
“I am proud to be a part of this community and to feel the love returned from the community to our family has been a special joy and a great accomplishment,” she said.
Jorge Sr. agreed that the many friends he’s made over the years and the opportunities those relationships have provided have been the highlights of his life.
“Our journey began in San Clemente where we met wonderful people. We found the same when we opened the Capistrano Beach restaurant in Dana Point. It’s incredible how it has developed and how many people we have met along the way,” said Jorge Sr.
We have served presidents, celebrities and made many friends. We are proud to be a part of this community. It gave us a chance, is giving us the chance, to do many things like visit the White House and travel the world, because of the people we’ve met in our place. I also really want to thank my family, because without them all that we have accomplished in the past 40 years would not have been possible. God bless America.”
Olamendi’s Tequila is now available at the restaurant and the brand will officially launch in stores by Thanksgiving.
The original Olamendi’s is located at 34664 Coast Highway in the Capistrano Beach neighborhood of Dana Point and can be reached by phone at 949.661.1005.