The city of Watertown recently welcomed a new local business La Catrina, which opened Sept. 14. The new Mexican restaurant will be the first of its kind in Watertown.
Day of the Dead
La Catrina is located in downtown Watertown and replaces Southfork BBQ, which formerly utilized the same venue in which the Mexican restaurant is located. It is owned by Forest Lake resident Salvador Ruelas and his wife, Angela Navarro.
The restaurant is themed around the popular Day of the Dead, an important cultural celebration in Mexico that takes place every year at the beginning of November to commemorate those who have passed away. On the holiday, it is thought that the spirits of deceased loved ones return to spend time with those still living.
The celebration includes individuals and families offering food and other gifts to the spirits, who are considered to be the guests of honor during the festivities.
The restaurant gets its name and logo from La Calavera Catrina, the overarching figure in the Day of the Dead holiday. A skeleton with makeup on her face, La Catrina is thought to be the figure that oversees the afterlife and guides spirits in their journey through it.
Ruelas says that the unique theme helps people learn about a new part of Mexican culture and sets the restaurant apart from others like it.
“It brings a little bit of the culture. A lot of people from Minnesota know about the Day of the Dead, so we are bringing a little bit more,” he said. “That’s what I think a big difference is between this restaurant and other Mexican restaurants.”
On the restaurant’s walls is an image of La Catrina and other important cultural items. Ruelas hopes to eventually place plaques with the meanings of each item on the walls as well to help people better understand their meanings. “It will let people know what those things are so that they understand why we put them there,” he said.
Built from scratch
Ruelas says that the process of opening the restaurant involved a very fast turnaround. He and Navarro acquired the venue for the restaurant in August after being introduced to Mario Cortolezzis, the owner of Southfork BBQ, who was looking to end operations there.
Ruelas and his wife knew the venue would be a great spot for their restaurant after their first time seeing it. “The first time that my wife and I came to see the space, we saw a lot of potential with where it’s located and it being such a small place,” he said.
Though the venue required a new look, Ruelas says that he was able to complete the renovations himself thanks to his extensive experience in construction and restaurant remodeling.
Before opening La Catrina, Ruelas remodeled other peoples’ restaurants for a living for nearly a decade, something he greatly enjoyed. “I enjoy the process of building it; that’s one of my things. I like to see an empty space, and then seeing that space working and rolling makes me feel very good about it,” he explained.
He also says that his time remodeling restaurants helped prepare him to run his own. “I definitely learned a lot during that time about restaurants. In construction, there are steps: step one, step two, and step three. So that’s what I’ve learned about restaurants, and managing them is step one, step two, up to step 100,” he said.
During the renovation process, Ruelas built everything that can be found in the restaurant himself, including the bar and each table.
Now, with the restaurant in business, Ruelas and Navarro work together with their staff to run the restaurant. The two spend most of their time bartending for the venue. However, Salvador says that they ultimately help with anything that must be done.
“It’s not that I’m doing everything; it’s that I try to help with everything. My main thing is bartender, but I make sure everything is running smoothly,” he explained.
The restaurant offers a large menu with a variety of food options, and Ruelas says that practically every ingredient is made fresh and in-house. “I always tell my customers that the only thing that we don’t make is the sour cream,” he said.
Though they are happy to be in business now, Ruelas says that his wife was hesitant to start a new business at first. After seeing the community that they would be in, she jumped fully on board.
“She was scared to look for something new, but we got here in Watertown, and we saw the town, the space for this restaurant, and the kitchen, and she loved it. The most important part was the town. It’s a beautiful town,” he said. “We really love Watertown, and I think that the community deserves another restaurant option in town.”
According to Ruelas, in just one month, the restaurant has received great support from locals, and there are already regulars at the venue.
He has also already provided job opportunities for several residents, some of whom are high school students looking for work. “I have hired some kids that want an opportunity to work, so I give that opportunity to them so that they can start learning about a grown-up life,” he said.
La Catrina is located at 300 Lewis Ave South, Suite #B, Watertown. Any questions can be answered by calling the restaurant at (952) 378-4158.
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