Living the Dream

Lola’s Mexican Restaurant now open on Main Street

by Breanna Beers

“Nobody told me about the weather,” exclaimed Carlos Martinez, the owner and founder of Lola’s Mexican Restaurant, set to open on Cedarville’s Main Street in the coming weeks.

While regrettable compared to the year-round 65-85 degrees of his hometown of Degollado Jalisco, Mexico, dealing with Ohio snow was the least of the obstacles in Carlos’ way as he pursued his lifelong dream of owning his own restaurant.

When his uncle suggested Carlos join him in Ohio, Carlos was reluctant. He eventually agreed to give it a try for six months and see how things worked out. Nearly a decade later, he’s still here, despite the difficulty of the transition. In unison, Carlos and his brother, Pedro, identify the biggest challenge of those early days: “Language.”

Pedro described how he used go to McDonald’s, and every time order the only thing he knew how to say: “Number one.” The brothers laughed over Carlos’ story of purchasing the wrong milk for their uncle’s restaurant, and secretly throwing it away to buy the new one instead of attempting to exchange it.

Carlos’ and Pedro’s extended family owns several Mexican restaurants scattered around Ohio. It was at one of these that Carlos began working as a dishwasher when he first came to the U.S.

“I didn’t like it,” Carlos said. “I thought, this is not for me. I can’t tell my friends, ‘I am a dishwasher!’ I need to be something else, at least a waiter or something.”

He began cleaning tables and getting drinks. One night, his uncle pointed to a cluster of tables: “You see those four tables?” he said. “Those are yours.”

Carlos nearly panicked — but he did it. And after that, his uncle kept asking him to wait tables on busy nights.

“Every single Friday I was so scared, so nervous,” Carlos remembered, smiling. “I thought, ‘Oh no, it’s almost Friday again!’ But that’s the way you learn. It pushed me to do it.”

Carlos worked at his uncle’s restaurant for the next eight years, during which he met his wife, Paulina, on a trip back to Mexico, brought her to the U.S., and had two children, now ages 4 and 2. During that time, his dream to own his own restaurant only grew, until he finally had to tell his family he was leaving.

“We decided to not work for everybody’s dream,” Carlos said. “We needed to work for my dream, for [Pedro’s] dream … And now that dream is coming true.”

After nervously telling the family and gratefully receiving their support, Carlos, Paulina, Pedro, their sister Ruby and her boyfriend Juan began to look for a building that could house their new restaurant. They focused the hunt near their home in Hillsboro, even driving out to Cincinnati in search of available locations, but to no avail.

It was Paulina who found the former home of Main Street Station in Cedarville,  which had been vacant for over two years. Carlos was reluctant, as it would mean the family would have to move, but he agreed to drive up and take a look.

“We fell in love,” Carlos said, smiling.

The small town was perfect for raising their kids with a good school and friendly community. Carlos was impressed by the number of people he saw walking or riding bicycles around town. He began driving to Cedarville on his day off every week until he was able to make the move.

Once they found the building, they had to get it ready. After being empty for two years, it took nearly two months to clean and paint, both inside and outside. Now, however, they are only waiting on the final inspections, and anticipate opening within the next week or two.

The menu took nearly three months to develop, and includes a wide variety of traditional Mexican dishes. Some recipes are original to Lola’s; others come from Carlos’ parents, mother-in-law, uncles and grandparents. All are inspired by his hometown of Degollado.

“We grew up on a pig farm, so my family knows how to cook pork,” Carlos said. “I have too many favorites.”

The names of many dishes are a tribute to the close ties of his family. Abuelo’s Burritos are named after his grandfather, who loved guacamole; Carlos’ father used to be called Don Carlos (a term of respect) by the people of the town, leading to the Don Carnitas; Leo’s Tacos are named after an uncle who Carlos and Pedro remember fondly.

“He was always so nice with us,” Carlos remembers. “Every time we would hang out with him, he would say, ‘Eat whatever you want, don’t pay for anything.’ We always remembered that. I was talking with my family about it last night, and they’re going to give me his recipe for the tacos. When I told his family, they almost cried.”

When asked if he misses Mexico, Carlos fell quiet for a moment.

“Every day,” he said. “Every day.”

Family is everything to the Martinezes. To Carlos, it’s what made all of this worth it. Carlos expressed how grateful he is to have them here with him in Cedarville as his long plans finally come to fruition.

“That’s why I came to this country, looking for something better,” he said. “Something better for my family. It was a long process. This is a challenge for me. This is something different. It’s going to be really exciting. I’m really, really, really happy to do it, and I’m really happy to have my family to do it with me. The people from this town have supported me a lot. How can I explain it? I don’t know. I don’t have the words to explain it. It’s just one of my dreams.”

Located at 19 S Main St., across the street from Hearthstone Inn, Lola’s will be open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday and closed on Sunday.

Breanna Beers is a junior Molecular and Cellular Biology major and the Campus News editor for Cedars. She loves exercising curiosity, hiking new trails, and quoting The Princess Bride whether it’s relevant or not.

1 Reply to "Living the Dream"

  • comment-avatar
    Warren Hawk April 19, 2021 (4:13 pm)

    Great story! You have to admire folks like that.

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