When Martin and Connie Hernandez opened a Mexican restaurant in downtown Seymour in May 2011, they had no idea it would become so important to them and to those who ate there.
But faced with closing Mi Casa Mexican Restaurante earlier this year, it soon became clear the business was more than just a place to get a bigger-than-life burrito drenched in queso.
It was a destination for families, a place that named its entrees after its customers and a location where faith and friendship were served up with a side of rice and refried beans.
“They put God and their customers first,” said Terry Kriete of Seymour.
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“The food is great, and the owners are such nice people,” added Paula Weaver, also of Seymour. “You always feel welcome and at home.”
Due to issues with their building at 224 S. Chestnut St. and their landlord, the Hernandezes knew they were going to have to move or give up on their dream. Financially, it looked like the latter option would win. The couple weren’t able to secure a commercial or business loan to help them finance a move.
The restaurant was set to close in October but was granted a reprieve when the landlord extended the lease temporarily. Mi Casa’s last day was Dec. 11.
The Hernandezes and their three sons, Joshua, Isaiah and Jacob, turned to the Lord for direction and an answer. Together, the family prayed; as did many of their customers.
Those prayers were answered when Adam and Michelle Hall, owners of a local floor cleaning business, lent the family the $40,000 they needed.
“They know how hard it is to have a business and succeed and what it’s like to be turned down,” Connie Hernandez said. “When she called and said they were going to do that for us, I cried.”
Within 30 minutes of that call, another family called saying they wanted to lend their friends the money.
“For two families to be willing to take that chance, I mean who does that?” Connie Hernandez said.
Thanks to the Halls and support from many others in the community, Mi Casa will soon reopen at 101 S. Broadway St.
“I want to put a sign up outside that says financed by God’s people,” Connie Hernandez said.
The Hernandezes had hoped to have their pre-opening health inspection Monday and open today, but there are a few technical and mechanical things still being worked out, Connie Hernandez said.
Work on the building has taken longer than they wanted. Their first contractor bailed on the project, forcing the Hernandezes to scramble to find someone else to finish.
A lot of work has gone into renovating and cleaning up the building, which most recently housed a Latino bar and nightclub. The couple are purchasing the building on contract. The building is owned by local attorney Jeff Lorenzo.
“Mr. Lorenzo has been so good to us, in helping us find an architect, and he hasn’t taken a payment from us yet for this building,” Connie Hernandez said. “He told us when we got the business up and running again, then we could start making payments.”
The inside of the building has been redone with new flooring, paint and ceiling. A handicapped-accessible ramp has been installed, and the kitchen area has been remodeled. New lighting, seating and restrooms complete the look.
“It’s a night-and-day difference from what it looked like before,” Connie Hernandez said of the building.
Compared with their downtown location, the new building provides much more dining area space, a large waiting/pickup area, better parking and more visibility to traffic.
“Before, our limit for seating was 50, and here, it is like 77, but really, it can seat more than 100,” she said.
With the new and bigger location, Mi Casa will add staff, extend hours and expand its menu to include new items and more combination meals.
One feature customers will recognize is the Scripture from Joshua 24:15 painted on the wall: “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
The same line also was painted on the wall of the old location. It’s a motto they stay true to daily as a family and in their business, Connie Hernandez said. They have always closed Sundays so they can go to church and spend time together.
Through all of the trials, Connie Hernandez said they have had to “rely on God.”
“We have prayed every single day,” Martin Hernandez said. “God has seen us through, and he will see us through.”