When Josefina and Omar Coronel decided they were ready to give their dream of opening their own restaurant another shot, relationship banking made all the difference.
For Josefina and Omar Coronel, bringing El Mejor Bar & Grill to St. Francisville in March of 2019 felt both like a big leap of faith and the result of years of hard work finally coming to fruition. With a personal journey including a stint as restaurant owners, and working at Baton Rouge’s most iconic Mexican eatery, seeing their own restaurant finally come to fruition tastes all the sweeter.
El Mejor was not the couple’s first restaurant venture. The Coronels previously owned a restaurant in Zachary, which they eventually sold before joining the ranks at Superior Grill in Baton Rouge. After spending a decade honing their skills at the perennially popular Mexican eatery, Josefina and Omar decided to give their dream another shot. With nearly twenty years in the industry now under their belts, they were ready to try again; this time, in St. Francisville.
“We thought, we’re more mature now, we’re older, and we have a lot more experience,” says Josefina, who manages El Mejor’s front-of-house operations, while Omar is the resident chef. “It kind of was in our blood. It was something we’ve always done and always liked.”
Putting the “Destination” in Destination Dining
St. Francisville piqued Josefina’s interest as a possible location, and after asking around about new developments in the area, she learned that the building formerly home to San Pancho’s Mexican restaurant was available. Set back from Highway 61 about four miles south of St. Francisville—and somewhat out of the way for their friends and regulars in Baton Rouge and Zachary—they knew they’d be taking a chance on the location. So they agreed to lease the property for a year: an experiment that turned out to be well worth the effort. By December, they were closing on a purchase of the building.
“It was a very hard step to take because of the background for this location,” Josefina says. “But we knew if we put our all into it, we would get something good out of it. And since we’ve opened, St. Francisville has been great to us. It was just something meant to happen.”
On weekends, the colorful Tex-Mex hotspot they’ve created is packed with customers from all over the surrounding area, including Jackson, Zachary, Ethel, Clinton, New Roads, and Baton Rouge. Known for their generous happy hour and fresh, flavorful food, El Mejor attracts new and returning diners through word of mouth and rave reviews.
Financial Support: A Vital Ingredient for Business Success
In an industry that is already notoriously difficult to succeed in, where owners face many challenges including high overhead and thin profit margins, having a relationship with a community bank made all the difference, Josefina says.
The Coronels worked with BSF V.P. of Commercial Lending Melvin Harvey, Jr. to secure the building mortgage. “Bank of St. Francisville helped us through the whole process, and Melvin was there every step of the way,” Josefina says. “He made me feel like I didn’t need to be scared, like everything was going to be okay. Whenever I thought this couldn't happen, he reassured us. He would come to the restaurant and say, ‘Look, we're going to make this happen, don't worry.’”
Even amid the economic turmoil of the COVID-19 pandemic, the West Fel community has shown overwhelming support, says Josefina. After a brief closure in March, El Mejor reopened to steady business from loyal locals. In fact, plans are in the works to expand El Mejor’s current space, Josefina says. They’re working with BSF to build an enclosed patio with garage-style windows, a small stage for live music, and additional private dining rooms. So expect El Mejor to be hosting even more large parties and special events in the near future.
Interested in learning about other family businesses BSF has been a part of, including popular retail newcomers like Vintage Hive, District Mercantile, and Away Down South? Click here to read more. To get more local success stories like these in your inbox, sign up for our monthly e-newsletter here.