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Monday March 30, 2015
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Cancun Mexican Grill



"I worked at the Okemos restaurant back in 2007 for a few years," Maria explains, sitting in one of the brightly colored booths before a weekday lunch rush. "I have my real estate license in Chicago and was hoping to go back to that, but Lorenzo wanted to help out his brother, so here we are," she smiles. Though she misses her mother back in Chicago, she says that the staff has made the transition easy. She manages the financial end of the restaurant while her husband pitches in everywhere else as needed, from cooking to bussing tables. If that sounds like the Veras are an experienced team, they are--they've been married for twenty-seven years.

The 3,100-square-foot restaurant seats up to 130 people. It has brand-new tile floors, a full bar, a downstairs banquet space that can seat another sixty-eight people, and several large-screen televisions throughout the restaurant, all tuned to a channel that plays lively Mexican mariachi and fiesta music.

The restaurant is one of a half-dozen Cancun Mexican Grills in southeast Michigan owned by Ismael Leon and his three business partners including Lorenzo Vera's brother. Leon, originally from Mexico, first worked in the Chicago area and is now based in Kentucky. "I wanted to get out of the big city and open a Mexican restaurant," Leon explains by phone. After visiting friends in Franklin, Kentucky, he found the market and community he wanted and there opened his first restaurant, Sol Azteca. Eventually, he felt ready to expand. Customers, family and friends suggested Michigan. In addition to Carmelo Vera's location, there's a second Cancun Mexican Grill in Okemos run by Leon's cousin, Felipe Bernal. Others are in Grand Ledge, St. Johns, Lansing, and now, Saline.

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