Reaching a milestone like this in the restaurant business is no
easy feat. Hundreds of Toledo restaurants have opened and closed
over five decades, so Ms. Villa knows just how lucky her family
is to have survived so long.
“How do I feel? Extremely grateful, not only to the community,
to my parents who are the founders of the restaurant, but to God
for keeping us going all these years,” she said. “We’ve gone
through recessions, we’ve gone through good times, bad times and
we’re still here.”
So what is her proudest achievement in 50 years of the
“I think the fact that we’ve maintained the integrity of the
quality of our food,” she said. “My mother was a farm girl. It
was extremely important to her that our food showed not only our
heritage to the community. Mexican food has a stigma that it has
to be something fast and cheap and low quality. That is not the
case at all. She always made sure that all our food was always
made fresh with the best quality ingredients.”
Ms. Villa lamented that over the past 15 years, the U.S. food
system has “drastically changed, with the use of more chemicals
and processed food.” At the same time, according to Ms. Villa,
El Tipico has made a transition to being not only fresh, but
organic and GMO-free.
“We do our absolute best to be as chemical free as possible in
order to give the absolute best quality food we can to our
patrons,” she said.
Ms. Villa’s late mother Consuelo started growing
vegetables in her own garden to use in the restaurant 45 years
ago—a tradition that continues today at the back of the El
Tipico property. At one time, her mother had gardens on four
lots throughout the neighborhood. There are still several fruit
trees planted by her mom outside the restaurant—black cherry,
peaches, apricots, apples, and yellow plums. The
garden contains various peppers, herbs, and spices.
“We share that with our community here at the restaurant, with
our patrons,” she said. “I can remember looking out the window
with pride at my mother sharing bell peppers, tomatoes, and
whatever she was picking that morning with the customers. That
brings them joy and to this day, we use it almost for
educational purposes for people who never had a garden and don’t
know where this food comes from, particularly kids. That’s a
Ms. Villa stated she particularly still enjoys the “creative
side of cooking the food.” Her late mom’s presence can still be
felt in that effort, when “someone is happy with their plate of
“Sharing our heritage, sharing that food with them, that I know
is nutritious for them as well, is a really good feeling,” she
said, despite the 12 to 15-hour days and thinking about the
operation on a day off and all the paperwork. “Even when I think
I can’t do this anymore, all it takes is a customer to be happy
and start telling us their memories. You hear those stories and
you know you just have to keep going.”
There are generations of families who have been customers all 50
years and new people who discover the restaurant every week,
according to Ms. Villa, who has stayed steadfast in the vision
of her parents to keep it a family-friendly, neighborhood
restaurant. She called El Tipico the “only fresh and organic
Mexican restaurant in Ohio.”
That designation has attracted people with food allergies or who
have medical conditions which require them to find meals that
are gluten-free or chemical-free. Word of mouth has led people
to drive long distances for that kind of dining experience:
“clean, healthy food that has flavor to it.”
Her parents relied more on repeat customers than advertising to
sustain the restaurant over five decades. Ms. Villa uses social
media, including Facebook and Instagram to communicate with
faithful and new customers alike, a modern twist on
word-of-mouth which has proven helpful.
¡Feliz Cumpleaños Señor Ezekiel Villa, 31 de marzo!
Patrons are being asked to write down or videotape their
favorite memories of the restaurant. The top five submissions
will be chosen to receive a taco bar for 20 people on March
31, which is her father Ezekiel’s 87th
birthday. Ms. Villa wants to pay homage to the man who worked
the front of the house as a waiter in the evenings for so many
years, despite working a full-time military day job.
“He is the youngest man to have ever entered, served, and
retired from the United States Air Force,” she noted. “He was 14
years old, just a child.”
Ms. Villa’s grandparents were migrant workers who hailed from
Texas. Their three sons got tired of working the fields, so the
older two brothers went to take an Army exam in 1948. Ezekiel
tagged along, but sat in the back of the exam room and was
inadvertently handed a test, too.
“My dad was goofing around and opened it up and started taking
the test,” she recalled.
After the tests were graded, according to Ms. Villa, her father
was the only one in the room who had passed. He scored high
enough on the exam; he got to choose which branch of military
service he wanted. Her father chose the Army Air Corps,
precursor to the US Air Force.
“It was a snowball effect. He had no idea this was going to
happen,” she said. “He didn’t mean to lie his way in. When asked
how many years of schooling he had, he held up four fingers. The
sergeant assumed he meant four years of high school, not the
fourth grade. After that, he told some very colorful stories in
order to get in. When he was 18, he went and told them the truth
because he was up for a promotion and he knew they would do a
further background check.”
His superior officers threatened to court-martial him, but sent
him to serve in Korea during the war instead. During a battle
with the Chinese, he got shot and the opposing forces stripped
him of everything except his pants—including his dog tags and
I.D.—and severely beat him. He was left severely swollen and
As Ms. Villa tells it, U.S. troops mistook him for a prisoner of
war and took him with them.
“That saved my father’s life. Otherwise, they probably would
have killed him,” she said. “He was a POW on the American side
for a couple of days, because they didn’t know he was one of
them. I believe this was all due to his mother, at home on her
knees, praying for his safety.”
Ezekiel later returned stateside to finish his military career
in a downtown Toledo office. His wife Consuelo decided she
wanted to open a small Mexican restaurant. So from the age of
Ms. Villa literally grew up in the South Avenue restaurant,
which started in one-half of its current location in 1968 as a
taquería, renting what was previously a hot dog stand.
The other half of the storefront housed a dry cleaner.
Ms. Villa’s parents had wanted to move back to Texas at one
point after Ezekiel retired, but decided to stay in Toledo when
he instead attended Bible College and entered the ministry. The
restaurant took off, using the recipes Consuelo had developed
from her family, as well as once working in restaurants in her
Good fortune smiled on the couple, when Toledo Blade food
editor Mary Alice Powell did a newspaper review of the
little taquería. Curious
people started to line up outside to sample some of Consuelo’s
cooking. The founder of Hickory Farms, Richard Ransom,
according to Ms. Villa, also frequented the restaurant, bringing
movers and shakers from the business world with him.
Around 1970, the restaurant had seen enough success that the
Villas decided to rent out the other side of the building. By
then, the dry cleaner was gone, replaced by a small gift shop.
The couple converted it into a Mexican-themed gift shop to
accompany the restaurant. The building also had a back room
where their daughter spent her formative years while they
“They had a pool table in there and I can recall riding my
tricycle around the pool table and taking my naps on a sofa,”
recalled Ms. Villa. Eventually, a wall got knocked down, so the
gift shop and back room could be converted into a dining room
for the restaurant.
To supplement their income during the slow summer season,
Consuelo hit the road and cooked her Mexican recipes at county
fairs and festivals across the region. That practice continued
for four decades. But that move also spread the reputation of
the restaurant to out-of-towners.
“She was a smart businesswoman and she knew that that was what
would get us through,” said Ms. Villa.
The biggest change at El Tipico over the years came in 2012,
when the restaurant closed for nine months for a complete
remodel. Faithful customers raced right back when it reopened.
“We had people waiting over two hours just to get into the
restaurant,” said Ms. Villa. “They were outside, sitting in lawn
chairs, waiting to come in. It was fantastic. People were great.
I was out there apologizing. We were running out of food. They
were waiting forever. We weren’t expecting that type of
explosion of people coming out to eat. I remember them saying
‘Hey, we’ve waited nine months. What’s two more hours?’”
El Tipico is celebrating its golden anniversary in a variety of
other ways throughout March, including an invitation-only,
private open house on Sunday, March 11, 2 to 5 p.m. Toledo City
Council will present a proclamation marking the milestone, along
with a ceremonial ribbon-cutting. 50 people also will be
selected throughout March to order off
the original 1968 menu.
“That is a huge difference. We’re talking a Mexican platter for
three or four dollars,” she said. “It’s going to be fun.
Something that goes for $14 today cost three dollars back then.
We’ll also have giveaways and have some fun.”
So what does the future hold for El Tipico? Ms. Villa said that
is “in God’s hands.”
“We said after 50 years, we would sit down and talk and make
some decisions,” she said. “Is it time to sell? Is it time to
retire? Or do we keep going? That decision will be made sometime