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Business of the Week: Tonayan, a True Neighoborhood Gem

Rohnert Park's Isidro and Laura Velasco opened up their own business in Rohnert Park in 2006.

Looking back at his 40 years in the restaurant industry, Tonayan’s Isidro Velasco says there’s one reason he is where he is today: hard work. He stood perched against the kitchen door on a recent day, and surveyed his restaurant. Patrons sipped margaritas at the bar. A couple at a table near the window in the back of the restaurant crunched tortilla chips with housemade salsa.

The lunch rush just finished; it’s the quiet hour right before dinner begins.

“Today was a good day, business has been picking up,” Velasco says.

Velasco, 59, moved to Los Angeles from Jalisco, Mexico in 1972, when he was 18. A year later he would travel to San Francisco, in search of a new way of life.

“I decided when I was five years old that I wanted to move to America, to start a family,” he says.

Velasco started small. He became a dishwasher; then a bus boy, a server, bartender and manager. He was promoted to cook at Sizzler, and ran front of the house operations at Celia’s Mexican Restaurant in San Rafael. Then he ventured out — and started a new spot in Petaluma called Velasco's with his sister-in-law. He’s modest when asked about how he went from a boy with a dream to a small business owner.

“I just knew what I wanted, and got it,” he says.

Velasco’s work ethic is one that follows him to this day. He’s up early, and closes the restaurant every night with his wife of 22 years, Laura. Rarely is there a week when the two aren’t there all seven days.

The two came Rohnert Park in 2006. Velasco said they saw it as an opportunity to branch out. Since, the couple has been working to keep the restaurant up despite the soured economy. They recently opened up a full bar and started hosting karaoke Friday and Saturday nights to stay fresh. 

He’s in the back most of the time; she’s out front. No doubt, anyone who’s eaten at Tonayan has witnessed Laura’s stellar service.  She often wears a smile, and hardly stops moving. 

What to get:

I have to admit, I’m a sucker for Velasco’s mole and the chile verde. Don’t skip the complimentary chips and salsa at the beginning of your meal either — all are homemade by Velasco himself. 

I suggest sitting at the bar, ordering a Negro Modelo on draft, and hanging out for a while before ordering. It becomes clear that this is a true family spot. Booths and plenty of tables wrap around the circumference of the dining room, and are frequented by locals. It’s also a great place for a date; sit by the back window and the ambiance is perfect. I suggest sharing the flan at the end, also made in house, by Laura.

I caught up with a couple at the bar the other day when I was having dinner.

“I’ve been here several times, and every time it gets better; I try to have something new every time,” said one patron. “I’ll definitely be back.”

She recommended anything with the verde sauce (also homemade) and the chicken fajitas.

Ole Kern, who lives a short walking distance from Tonayan, said he likes to just come hang out and watch a game.

“It’s just good food, and really nice people,” he said.

If you go:

Tonayan Mexican Restaurant; 500 Raley’s Town Centre, Rohnert Park. Call 707- 588-0893 with questions or more information. Check out the full menu here. Don’t miss the Cinco de Mayo celebration Thursday night, starting at 6 p.m. The party will feature a mariachi band.

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