Rancho Grande likes to try new things | State and region

Juan Solis walks from behind the bar to a stand at the Rancho Grande Mexican restaurant.

While on a break, he usually uses the white napkin he brought with him to polish the already clean table in front of him.

He rarely sits at work.

It’s not in his DNA.

Juan and his brother Jose have owned Beckley’s Restaurant since 2008.

In November it moved from the Beckley Crossing shopping center to the building formerly occupied by Macado’s just across the street.

“We needed a change, basically,” Juan said of the move. “New ideas, something different. We wanted to try new things.

The Solis family has been trying new things for over 30 years now.

It all started when Juan’s father, eldest Jose Solis, moved from the family’s small hometown of San José de la Paz in the Mexican state of Jalisco.

“There were more jobs in California,” Juan said. “They were paying dollars to pick strawberries, grapes, whatever.”

He explained that his father would go back and forth between California and Mexico, sending money to help support his family.

He later traveled to Georgia for work when his stepfather suggested he would make more money working alongside him at a junkyard.

It was in Georgia that the seeds of what would become the family business were planted.

Juan estimates that 90% of his hometown residents get their hands on Mexican restaurants in the United States.

So when a few Mexican restaurants opened near where his father worked in Georgia, he got a job there.

“They were busy before they even opened,” Juan said. “My dad realized there was a trade in rice, beans and ground beef and said, ‘Let’s go.’

Originally from Georgia, his father helped open restaurants in Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and then Oak Hill.

Fayette County is where the family settled when they moved to the United States in 1992.

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It was in 2008, when the co-owners, including eldest Jose Solis, decided to sell their successful Rio Grande in Beckley to the new Walgreens, that Juan got into the business.

For a while, Juan said, it looked like Beckley would be without a Mexican restaurant.

Realizing an opportunity, he and his brother Jose, who had already entered the restaurant industry, decided to open Rancho Grande.

In the years that followed, the brothers continued to open restaurants throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

Juan isn’t involved in every restaurant his brother and other partners have opened, but he has his fair share, including Habeneros in Lewisburg.

He said he remembers answering the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” question like a child.

“In high school and college, I was a footballer. I was really good,” he said. “I remember my dream was to be a professional footballer or to have my own restaurant. Some people laughed, but now I can say that not only do I have one, but I have seven.

“It’s fun when you go back to school or to your friends and you can say you’re living the American dream,” he added with a smile.

Juan is now 35 years old and is the father of four children whom he shares with his wife, his childhood sweetheart from the same small Mexican town.

He describes working days that start at 8 a.m. and don’t end until 11 p.m., as he prepares staff and then helps in the dining room.

“It’s really difficult,” he said. “I’ve missed so many important days with my kids, but this is for them.

“It’s what keeps you going.”

Although he doesn’t ask his kids to follow him into the restaurant business, he said he wants it to be an option for them if they want to.

And it just might come in time as they played a part in Habeneros opening in 2020, as well as the Rancho Grande relocation.

“I have pictures in Lewisburg of my kids sweeping the floor and they helped clean up here,” he said, adding with a laugh, “They may have done more damage, but they wanted to help.

“They wanted to be there.”

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In the 14 years since Juan and Jose opened Rancho Grande, the Beckley restaurant scene has grown tremendously, as three more Mexican restaurants, including a relocated Rio Grande, have opened.

But Juan said there was plenty of room for everyone to thrive.

“If you do it right and you do a good job,” he said.

This is one of the reasons why he returns to Mexico to choose an authentic decor before opening new places.

Rancho Grande’s interior, like Habeneros, features large, hand-cut, stained Mexican glass light fixtures.

The walls are adorned with large, brightly colored paintings, and even the liquor selections get special treatment as the bottles are displayed on a lighted “liquor tree.”

“The lights and trees and other objects that we have are things you don’t see anywhere else,” Juan said.

The decor, as well as the floors, cabins, tables and bar are all new.

Although Juan said the design of the restaurant is important, the quality of the food as well as the service is what keeps people coming back.

“We have good food and we take care of our customers,” he said.

And, in return, he says, his clients take care of him.

“One thing you learn after being here for years is that you make friends,” he said, explaining that diners notice when he’s not at work and ask about his family. “I’ve been to Mexico many times over the past 14 years, but when I come back here it’s home.”

Although he said the business was often exhausting, he said he was already working on at least one new site which is due to open in 2022.

He said he knew the job would take him longer and mean more time away, but he, like his father before him, was committed to growing his family’s businesses.

“I’m grateful, of course I am,” he said. “It paid off.”

• • •

Rancho Grande, located at 3815 Robert C. Byrd Dr. is open Monday-Thursday 11am-10pm, Friday 11am-11pm, Saturday 11am-10:30pm, and Sunday 11am-9pm

Take-out orders are available by calling 304-252-2550, and an outdoor patio is expected to open by May.

— Email: [email protected]

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