In Dining

Roberto Martinez and Valdemar Escobar of the Fiesta Garibaldi restaurants.

Fiesta Cafe concept reflects lifetime of restaurant experience

We broke the news last week that Fiesta Cafe is slated to open this spring at 1407 S. 1st St. in the former Wayward Kitchen.

This week, we had the opportunity to chat in more depth with veteran restaurateur Valdemar Escobar, owner of the Fiesta Garibaldi restaurants, about both his impressive career and his plans for the new breakfast, brunch and lunch spot.

"The restaurant will really focus on healthy, organic ingredients," Escobar says. "We'll use organic eggs for our omelettes and we'll feature freshly squeezed juices including blends that use ingredients like carrots and kale."

The menu is still in development, he says, but it will include staples like pancakes and French toast, served in a variety of styles. There will also focus on elements that people might not expect, like housemade sweet Mexican breads and pastries. At the bar, there will be items like mimosas and micheladas. Pricing for breakfast and lunch items will range from $8-15.

Roberto Martinez, who joined Fiesta Garibaldi four years ago as partner and chef, says the goal for the cafe is to create a warm, comfortable space that makes good use of the existing Cream City brick.

Martinez says part of the plan will be to open up the space and bring more natural light into the space. He says that there is the potential for garage doors, which will open to the outside and patio.
"We want it to be very relaxing, so we don't want too many colors," says Escobar. "We want it to be simple, a place where people can come and feel very comfortable."

Escobar, who got his start working at restaurants that served breakfast, says the concept has been in the works for years, during which he's been looking for an ideal location.

"This is the perfect location," he says. "There's so many apartments and condominiums going in, and very good traffic. There's the Harbor District development and so many restaurants. It's a no brainer."

Escobar's American dream

Escobar moved to the U.S. from Toluca, a city in Central Mexico, when he was 15 years old. His first job, he says, was working as a dishwasher. But, from there, he quickly worked his way up through the ranks.

"I learned to be a chef and cook and manager," he says. "And I saved money for at least ten years so I could start my own restaurant."

Over the years, Escobar worked in the kitchen at a variety of restaurants, including Omega in Hales Corners, before finally accumulating enough capital to venture off on his own.

It was 1995 when he opened his first restaurant, Eagle's Nest, at 1957 W. Forest Home Ave. He operated the location as a breakfast restaurant for 12 years before converting it into a location for the brand's popular Chicken Palace concept, a venue specializing in Mexican-American fare including chicken and housemade ice creams created under the LaMichoacana brand.

"I was always on the lookout for new concepts that weren't already in the market," he says. "It was about thinking of creative new innovative ideas. In 2002, I really worked to bring more Mexican seafood to the city at Fiesta Garibaldi. And now, we have added that option as a lunch buffet at Fat Valdi's. Meanwhile, at Chicken Palace we brought together two concepts in one: chicken and homemade ice cream."

Escobar notes that he's also been able to expand his brand to a variety of markets including Kenosha, Waukesha, Brookfield and Oconomowoc, as well as Waukegan and Rockford, Illinois.

"When I was a kid, I had a dream of owning many restaurants. I always loved working in kitchens and I had a dream of being an entrepreneur," he says. "And today I have many restaurants. Over the years, there are some we have kept and some we have sold. But we are always thinking of new things."

Martinez says working with Escobar has been a good move for his career.

"He's been such a good mentor," Martinez says. "I'm still learning so much from him. He never stops. He's always thinking of something new. Sometimes he'll call me at 10 o'clock at night to tell me something new he's thought about. There's never a dull moment."

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