Few restaurants, Mexican or otherwise, can boast of the loyal customer base through the years as El Rio Mexican Restaurant, located at the corner of the Old Cottondale Road and Optimist Drive, one block west of Pennsylvania Avenue. “I love this town,” owner Ivan said Tuesday, Aug. 11. “It’s the best thing that ever happened to me. I know most of our customers personally and many come to me for advice on many things.” Here is why El Rio is so successful: “We’re consistent,” Ivan explained. “People know what they are going to get when they come here, the same great meal they had the last time, same quality. I worked for six years as a cook myself and that is what I bring to my daily supervision of the kitchen.”
The owners of El Rio, Ivan Cortes and Nicholette Chorak, are famous not only for their extra-flavorful authentic Mexican cuisine, but for their perseverance as well. After their first location at the old Ice House building overlooking Spring Creek burned to the ground in February 2014, it took them about 30 days to reopen at another location across town off Pennsylvania Avenue as a stunned public watched. And their customers followed. And for the second time in Marianna, they have turned the revolving doors of intermittent occupancy into a standard of permanence. In fact, it was the disappointing closing of “Cowboys and Angels” on Optimist Drive that gave Ivan the vacant building he needed. Although Ivan lost the whole of his uninsured equipment in the building he leased from Bear Paw Adventures, he still was able to recover since several of his employees followed him too.
It might even be said that Ivan has “closed down” as many restaurants as he has opened. When he left the Old Mexico Mexican Restaurant as manager to open El Rio in 2012, Old Mexico didn’t last long. Another Mexican restaurant came to Marianna at about the same time El Rio burned—they lasted about five months.
The Cortes family includes Nicholette and their two sons, Ivan, 5 and Antonio, 2, who was a six-month-old baby when the Spring Creek location burned--and daughter Sofia, 8. By all appearances, Ivan is a great cook, a great father and a great entrepreneur. El Rio will celebrate its fourth anniversary in December. The restaurant seats 70 customers and currently has seven employees.
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