A couple of robberies nearly drove the Rochel family out of the Mexican grocery business on South Hillside.
Instead, they've expanded into the restaurant business, with better security and a big hand from family.
"It was either get a new idea or just close down the business," Alejandra Rochel said, translating for her mother, Rafaela, who owns the restaurant.
Restaurante Tienda Rochel opened earlier this month in Hillside Plaza at 2959 S. Hillside. It serves breakfast, lunch and dinner and features a big menu of Mexican dishes prepared by Rafaela and her three sisters.
Rafaela and her husband, Jose, moved to Wichita from Durango state in Mexico 17 years ago. Jose is a partner in a concrete company. Rafaela said she opened a Mexican grocery five years ago because she also prefers working for herself. But after experiencing two robberies, she was ready to call it quits.
Her landlord persuaded her to move to a space in the same shopping center that had previously been occupied by My Canh, an Asian restaurant. That space is well monitored by security cameras and the presence of more customers makes her mother feel better, Alejandra said. There's a small Mexican grocery attached to the restaurant (the "tienda" part of the name).
As with her leap into the grocery business, Rafaela said she had no previous experience running a restaurant. However, her sister owned the Pollo Express restaurant on South Meridian for several years, and her mother ran a gordita and hamburger stand in Durango. Another sister designed the menu for Rochel Restaurante.
"It's just family working here," said Alejandra, who waits tables at the restaurant with her cousins.
The menu includes huevos rancheros and eggs with chorizo for breakfast, tortas, burritos, shrimp cocktail and two more pages of Mexican dishes for lunch and dinner. Daily specials include four tacos or gorditas and a drink for $5.
On weekends, Rochel serves a whole grilled chicken that has been marinated overnight, along with side dishes, for $11.99. There's also a whole fried fish — head included — that Rafaela hopes Anglo diners will try, and shaved ice for dessert. Rafaela has applied for a liquor license.
So far, the restaurant has drawn most of its customers from Hispanic residents of the neighborhood, which borders Planeview. Quite a few workers from nearby aircraft plants have also stopped by, thinking the restaurant is still My Canh.
"They come in and eat and they like it so far," Alejandra said.
Her mother knows there are plenty of restaurants, Mexican and otherwise, in Wichita to choose from, Alejandra said, "but she has the confidence that it will do OK."