When we hear of a new restaurant coming to the Lake Nona area, the first thing that comes to mind is, “What major chain is coming?”
Not the case for Don Julio. Scheduled to open in late 2019, owner Florencio Rodriguez is excited for their expansion to Lake Nona. Yes, it’s a chain; no it’s not a corporate one. Don Julio is an authentic Mexican restaurant with recipes passed down through three generations. “We are not Tex-Mex,” said Rodriguez.
Originally from Guanajuato, Mexico, Rodriguez’s family moved to Athens, Georgia, when he was 10 years old. In Mexico, Rodriguez’s grandparents had restaurants and jaliscos. It was only natural for them to open one in Athens. In 1980, El Azteca was one of the first authentic Mexican restaurants in the city. At a young age, Rodriguez was immersed in the family tradition of making quality Mexican food.
My husband, Jeff Rogers, also from Athens, recalls visiting El Azteca Restaurant as a child with his uncle, Kenny Rogers. They frequented the restaurant so often that the owners had a dedicated table for the Rogers family. (We discovered this during my interview with Rodriguez.) On occasion, Rodriguez’s father also helped with the horses at Kenny Rogers’ ranch near Athens. Jeff and his parents had no idea the Don Julio restaurant they frequent on Chickasaw Trail was run by the same family as the Athens restaurant they loved years ago.
Currently, Rodriguez owns and operates two existing Don Julio restaurants, one in east Orlando and the other in Lake Mary. In addition to the new 6,000-square-foot Lake Nona area location, a fourth location at Orlando International Airport Section A is also in the works. The airport location will offer 6,500 square feet of dining space.
Everything is made from scratch. From the guacamole to the tortilla shells, all made in-house. Rodriguez said, “The mole sauce is a main ingredient and a secret recipe that makes our meats flavorful. The sauce is prepared with 40 different ingredients.” My favorite dish is the tamales, which is a recipe passed down from Rodriguez’s mother’s generation.
For consistency, each location will use the same recipes and ingredients. Rodriguez himself conducts trainings with his staff to ensure the best in quality. The deliciousness doesn’t stop there, though. Rodriguez has partnered with Chef Roberto Trevino to incorporate more Latin flavor. If you watch Iron Chef, you might have seen Chef Trevino competing. In March, Don Julio and Chef Trevino will introduce a new concept at the Chickasaw location. Expanding the space to 5,000 square feet, Don Julio Mexican Kitchen and Ceviche Bar will make its debut.
Why does Rodriguez continue to grow? For family. A few months before the east Orlando location opened in 2014, Rodriguez’s father passed away. He was part of the startup and never got to see its success. Six months later, his mother passed away. “I made a promise to my father that I would keep family traditions and recipes alive.” And that he has.
Rodriguez also helps new restaurateurs establish their businesses at no charge to continue the family legacy. He said, “It’s my way of giving back.”
Sophia Rogers leads The Rogers Team at Premier Sotheby’s International Realty. Family, relationships and real estate are her passions. She can be reached at email@example.com.