For over thirty years, the last name Jimenez has been synonymous with authentic Mexican cuisine in the western suburbs of Chicago. Jesus Jimenez, the patriarch of the family, first immigrated to Chicago in the late 1960's from Guanajuato, Mexico. After working in several restaurants, “Don Jesse” began at the now legendary longy’s rancho grande, in Lombard, il. After working his way up in the kitchen, it wasn’t long before the owner Richard (aka Longy) made Jesse head chef.
After the closing of Longy’s, Jesse tried several partnerships with other individuals, but it wasn’t until his wife Margarita became involved that they found success. Margarita Jimenez brought hard work, determination, and a knack for business to the mix and from then on good things happened. Margarita, a teacher by trade, was able to secure financing for the couple’s first restaurant in 1978. A greasy spoon diner, called Mom’s Place in West Chicago, was to become the main restaurant.
While starting their business, Jesse and Margarita had also started their family as well. When margarita left her family in Mexico City and moved to be with Jesse, she brought the oldest son, Eduardo. Not long after arriving in 1973, David was born and the family was complete.
When the storefront next door to the main restaurant became available, Jesse and Margarita opened West Chicago’s first Dairy Queen 1979. A year later, the Glen Ellyn market came to their attention and in 1980 the couple opened the Santa Fe restaurant. Located in a tiny storefront on crescent blvd in downtown Glen Ellyn, the Santa Fe drew such a crowd at its grand opening that the police department blocked the street in front of the restaurant so the public could hear the mariachis performing. Don Jesse and margarita owned and operated the Santa Fe from 1980 to 1985, eventually turning over the small, but charming business to Don Jesse's brother, Jose.
After running the ice cream store and restaurant side by side for several years, the success of the main restaurant demanded expansion. Closing the dairy queen and using both storefronts, the newly enlarged and remodeled main restaurant opened in 1982. Having now added additional dining rooms, a liquor license, and full bar area, margaritas, and cerveza only enhanced the authentic Mexican dining experience.
Not content to only have one restaurant, the time was again ripe for expansion into untapped markets. Opportunity knocked in the form of a recently closed restaurant, El Adobe. After extensive remodeling and updating, Hacienda Inn opened in 1985 on Butterfield Ave. In scenic Warrenville, Illinois. Hacienda inn was well received with the local families as well as the blue collar crowd which appreciated the great food, big screen tv, and lively jukebox.
With two locations now going strong, the two sons, Eduardo, and David became more involved with the business, working at both restaurants when school and athletics permitted.
When Wheaton, Illinois finally lifted its’ ban on liquor licenses, Don Jesse & Margarita decided to relocate the Hacienda Inn from its Warrenville location to downtown Wheaton. After getting a choice corner property in front of the train station, Wheaton saw El Zarape open in 1991. The ornate and intimate restaurant was awarded the second liquor license ever issued in the city’s history. El Zarape’s blend of Mexican comfort food, amazing margaritas, and beautiful murals continue to charm regulars and new patrons alike to this day.
After years of customers from as far away as Wasco, Sycamore, and the Tri-Cities pleaded with him to open a restaurant in their neck of the woods, Don Jesse began to look west to Kane County. In spring of 1998, a building at 112. E. Main St. became available and would become the site of the fifth restaurant that the Jimenez family would open. After almost a year of extensive remodeling, El Puente restaurant opened August of 1999.
The response was overwhelming. The word of mouth about the Mexican restaurant in the Tri-Cities opening was intense, and after several months of operating all three restaurants simultaneously (main restaurant, El Zarape, and El Puente) the family decided to focus their efforts on the newest opportunity. After over twenty years in West Chicago, and with a heavy heart, the main restaurant was closed in order to focus on the incredible demand in St. Charles.
Four years after opening El Puente, the neighbors at 108 e. Main approached with an offer to sell their building. The timing was perfect, and in 2003 El Puente expanded with an additional dining room to handle the extra business and a banquet room to host functions for patrons that wanted spice up their parties, functions, and meetings. Since 1999, El Puente has been providing its guests authentic Mexican cuisine, warm and attentive service, and two generations and over thirty years of the best Mexico has to offer.
The El Puente location in St. Charles has a rich history. Up until the middle of the 20th Century, this location was the location of the Star Theatre. Like many other theaters in St. Charles, it was a Vaudeville theater. Not much remains of the history of the Star Theater, but we do know that in the days before radio, movies, and TV, Vaudeville was THE source of entertainment. And the Star Theater left a legacy that later would be taken over by the Arcada Theater in the late 1920s.
For more information about what El Puente has to offer visit http://www.elpuentemex.com