By Jeff Hutton, Hola Iowa contributor
MARSHALLTOWN – Finding Mexican food in Iowa is not difficult. Finding Mexican cuisine that is a step above the rest, well, that can be a challenge.
But for the past four years, Central Iowans have made that discovery and they continue to come back for more at Marshalltown’s Mi Ranchito.
Restaurant owner/operator Rogelio Ibarra and his business partner Jose Hernandez efforts to make their mark in serving unique and delicious fare has proven a good bet, serving traditional Mexican selections, including seafood dishes, as well as Italian offerings.
For Ibarra, taking the chance to open the restaurant began with reluctance.
“I have a good friend of mine, which is also my business partner at the moment, and he reached out to me and wondered if I wanted to do some sort of partnership,” he said.
“I said you’re crazy.”
That’s in part because Ibarra has just purchased a house, was recently married, and wasn’t sure he wanted to get into the business.
But after meeting again with his business partner and talking with his parents, who were willing to help him financially, Ibarra jumped in.
But if Ibarra was going to take the leap, he wanted Mi Ranchito to be a true destination for excellent dining.
“I wanted this to be completely different with more authentic Mexican dishes,” he said, pointing to the restaurant’s varied offerings including succulent Mexican seafood, which has proven very popular with customers throughout the region.
After a series of hiccups, Ibarra and his partner opened Mi Ranchito in November of 2016 and it has been a labor of love ever since.
Mi Ranchito located in a facility that previously has been an Italian restaurant.
One of the cooks with that Italian eatery offered Ibarra and his staff to share in those recipes, including the homemade pizza – again a popular choice among Mi Ranchito’s customers, especially kids.
“We thought it was a good idea, and we knew people loved those recipes,” Ibarra said.
Word of mouth and social media marketing about Mi Ranchito began slowly but has grown over the past four years.
Customers from Marshalltown and throughout the Central Iowa area has grown exponentially. In fact, roughly 40 percent of Mi Ranchito’s customers, are from the Des Moines area, Ibarra said.
Ibarra said that alone suggests they must be doing something right.
While things have been steady in terms of growth and outreach, there’s no doubt Mi Ranchito has faced difficult times.
“Early on we were short staffed, just overwhelmed,” Ibarra said. “But we’re in a better position with staffing and we are focused more on the overall [dining] experience.”
And while the current pandemic has presented Ibarra and his staff with a number of challenges, perhaps more difficult has been two weather events that has prompted hurdles other restaurants may not have experienced.
In 2018, a tornado struck Marshalltown, causing millions of dollars in damage to the city. In 2020, along with the pandemic, a derecho with winds estimated at more than 100 mph, severely hampered the community and did damage to the Mi Ranchito facility, which Ibarra rents.
“With the pandemic, we started with just to-go orders, but we’re keeping busy. We’re busy every weekend,” Ibarra said, noting the restaurant is open daily Wednesday through Sunday, closed on Mondays and Tuesdays.
Hopeful that 2021 will return to some sense of normalcy, Ibarra said he hopes to get back on track with plans to purchase the building once the pandemic has been contained.
That would include a remodeling effort, including exterior and interior changes to make the Mi Ranchito experience even more of a stand-out dining opportunity for customers.
Ibarra also hopes to hire additional staff and while there are no plans to expand to other communities, the restauranteur admitted he has been approached to open franchises in Des Moines and in the Quad Cities.
“We’re looking into it, but we just can’t let go here. I have my family here and I don’t see leaving Marshalltown,” he said.
After all, Ibarra added, he grew up in Marshall County and despite previous moves to Des Moines and Storm Lake, Marshalltown is where he has “built a lot of relationships. People here know who I am. This is home.”
And for customers, Mi Ranchito has been a preferred dining locale.
“We prepare everything here on the spot. Nothing is pre-cooked, and with seafood, prepping that can be a lot harder and very time consuming,” Ibarra said, adding however that it’s worth the effort and customers appreciate it.
“Our customers know the food is fresh, they can have a couple of drinks while they wait and know that it’s always going to be delicious.”
Mi Ranchito Mexican Grill & Seafood is located at 1010 Lincoln Way in Marshalltown. For more information, visit the restaurant’s Facebook page or call (641) 352-3165.