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La Joya Fresh Mexican opens with positive energy

By Ted Glanzer

Staff Writer

SIMSBURY – Daniel Stevens named his new restaurant La Joya Fresh Mexican because he pined a little bit for California, where he lived for 20 years before returning to the Farmington Valley.

“We loved to go surf all the time,” Stevens said. “Hence the surfboards on the wall. I miss California. This is why I did this. I’m able to come here to the sticks in Connecticut and feel like I’m in California.” And the small restaurant – it’s just 1,600 square feet, most of which is kitchen – that opened last month has drawn rave reviews from customers. “It’s real small and it fills up real quick,” Stevens said. “We don’t take reservations. It stays busy all the time. It’s got a good buzz in here at night. We’re really excited about it. Since we opened, it’s been really, really good. Opening up in this climate has been really difficult. It was a challenge getting enough people together and getting enough people to operate. Once we got the right people, it was good. We’ve gotten some good comments. There’s a lot of energy swirling in the place.” Because of its size – La Joya fits just 55 inside and, once the weather warms, maybe another 20 to 30 people outside – at least 50% of the business is takeout. “It’s been a lot of word out there; the only [negative] thing we’re hearing is we’re too small, which we expected,” Stevens said. “Since we’re mostly to go, one fear is we are too small and everyone comes at once and people waiting in their cars.” So far the popular items have been tacos (duck carnitas, pork al pastor, baja fish, that are $5 to $6 a la carte) and tamales. “We’re not selling a lot of entrees but we do a lot of the fajitas and enchiladas,” he said. “We do a la carte tacos. … Churros go like crazy. “We’re not your typical Mexican red-rice-and-refried-beans-type of place. A lot of Mexican places you go, it all tastes the same. They kind of slop it all together. Here, everything stands out on its own and we try to do it a bit differently than a lot of people. It’s all fresh. The tagline is ‘Fresh Mexican.’ This type of food takes a long time to prep. We’re not sourcing anything out. There’s a lot of dicing, a lot of cutting, a lot of braising. There’s no shortcuts. All the magic gets done here in the day.” He employs 14 people to make the restaurant go. It’s been a lot of long hours – Stevens estimates he puts in 14- to 16-hour days at the location at 834 Hopmeadow St. in the former Andy’s plaza – but it’s also a labor of love. Stevens graduated from Avon High in 1993, then moved to Arizona to attend the Scottsdale Culinary Institute before heading to Southern California to work as an executive chef at a number of restaurants. He and his wife moved back to Connecticut about seven years ago, with Stevens most recently serving as executive chef of Sayulita in South Glastonbury for five years before opening La Joya, the first venture that he’s owned, The goal is to make La Joya as profitable as possible, which means finding efficiencies and creating new revenue streams, like possibly opening a food truck, growing the catering business and making the restaurant available for private parties on the days that it’s closed, Stevens said. He’s not quite at the point where he wants to open a second location or think about franchising. “My goal is to get this profitable where I’m able to hire a chef,” he sad. “At this point right now all want to do is get as much revenue streams as possible out of this place. If we do it right, I feel like we could really really do well. … I can’t look too far ahead because I haven’t mastered this yet. You can’t look past anything.” La Joya is located at 834 Hopmeadow St. in Simsbury. It’s open Wednesday and Thursday from 4 to 9 p.m., Friday from 4 to 10 p.m., Saturday from 1 to 10 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 9 p.m. The restaurant is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.

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