ASHLAND A new restaurant owner in Ashland adopted a few local landmarks to help shape the identity of the restaurant.
“The best thing I love about this place is that I don’t know why, but I feel so drawn to the bridges,” Sopapillas owner Jaime Lopez said, showing the back of his shirt. displaying the blue and green bridges connecting Ashland to southeast Ohio. “It’s like this place’s signature – let’s eat below deck.”
Sopapillas officially opened its doors on Friday, October 14. It is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday.
Lopez knows La Finca is a tough act to follow. It was at the same location – at 1202 Greenup Ave. – for 26 years.
Rafael and Carmen Rodriguez owned the highly respected Mexican restaurant. They are Lopez’s cousins and they knew that Lopez was well regarded in the restaurant industry. He also owns Molcajete, which is, according to Trip Advisor, the #1 restaurant in Geneva, Nebraska – a city of about 2,000 people.
“(Rafael) called me to tell me he wanted to retire,” Lopez said. “He realized that life is short and he wanted to enjoy life a little more. I said, ‘I could come and see you at your place.’
“I love the area,” Lopez added. “I have been here for two, three months. It’s a nice place with nice people, very friendly people. It means a lot. It makes you feel like you’ve come home.
Lopez, Ana Lopez and Brenda Alvarez are all co-owners of the restaurant. Ana is Jaime’s niece. Alvarez is Ana Lopez’s cousin.
Lopez said one aspect of her restaurants that stands out is aesthetics. A variety of artwork will greet the eye at Sopapilla once it is fully ready.
The atmosphere is important, he stressed.
“There is a style that comes to the walls,” he said, referring to artistic works from the United States and Mexico.
Lopez is originally from Jalisco, Mexico.
Alvarez’s family roots are also in Jalisco. She grew up in Franklin, Tennessee before moving to Winchester, where she completed high school at George Rogers Clark. She then graduated from the University of Kentucky.
His family is connected with Mexican restaurants in Morehead, Lexington, Richmond and Cynthiana, among others.
She said her father had a restaurant in Virginia. His uncle operates one in South Carolina. Ana’s family has one in Michigan, Jaime’s brother has a couple in Nebraska and Kansas.
“It’s common for many Mexican restaurants to know each other or know where they’re from,” Alvarez said. “It’s a great community.”
Sopapillas takes its name from a Mexican dessert. This restaurant’s version is a square piece of fried dough with a honey, caramel and chocolate sauce drizzled over it. It is served with ice cream topped with whipped cream, sprinkles and a cherry.
“We serve it as a square versus a triangle so you get that rich air pocket,” Alvarez said. “It’s perfect to accompany ice cream.”
Settling for a name was tough, Lopez said.
“Kentucky has so many Mexican restaurants,” he said. “Every name you choose, it’s already taken. We were at Sopapillas and a few others, and decided to use Sopapillas.
That wasn’t the only hurdle for the Lopezes and Alvarez to overcome. The kitchen was a place of bad luck for Jaime Lopez for a while.
“It was very difficult because everything I touch in the back breaks,” he said. “I spent double what I thought I would spend. Fortunately, everything is now working as it should.
Lopez says all items on the menu are made from scratch, and Alvarez can attest to that.
“Jaime brought a lot of new recipes,” she said. “All the sauces, from teriyaki to salmon to salsa verde, are all homemade. We took the hot sauce bottles off the table because we make everything from scratch in this kitchen.
Lopez said customers can order spices on the side if they want, but he doesn’t see many of those here at Ashland yet.
“They like it on the plates,” he said.
“We’ve had good feedback on the food,” he added.
Some of his favorites include camarones fundidos, costillas in salsa verde, and chili Colorado, which packs a good kick.