“Montano” means mountain in Spanish, but restaurateur Mauricio Montano never expected to wind up living in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he now owns five successful restaurants.
The native of Mexico, who’s lived in various places across the U.S., got his start in the restaurant business in Augusta, Georgia. But at that time, he was not an owner, nor a chef. “I worked as a busboy,” he recalls, “but I have been around food my whole life. Many people in my family cooked, and my grandmother used to serve street food every night at her own little eating place.”
Montano learned well. His casual eatery El Paso has three locations in Hendersonville and one in Sevierville, Tennessee. And his newest venture, Tequilas Bar & Grill, opened in May.
“Tequilas is more upscale,” he says, adding that the inspiration for it came to him during a visit to Mexico. “I saw a restaurant there I really liked and said, ‘I want to make one just like that.'” What appealed to him was the traditional Old Mexico décor, including authentic antique furnishings. So Montano went shopping and bought everything he needed to fulfill the vision of his new establishment. “Everything in Tequilas came from Mexico,” he reveals. “The chairs, the tables, the light fixtures, the glasses, all of it.”
Menu items range from fresh ceviché (a citrus-cured seafood dish) to several vegetarian options to “Tequilas Parrillada” — a grilled platter piled high with Alaskan whitefish, skirt steak, shrimp, crawfish, plantain, and cactus. Also featured are chicken breast with Mexican mole sauce; a Cuban sandwich with bacon, steak, and grilled eggs; and fajita taco salad. (True to its name, Tequilas has a full bar, including $3.99 Long Island Iced Tea, daily drink specials, and live mariachi music on Friday night.)
“I travel a lot,” Montano notes, “so when I go to different places, I try different kinds of food and find new recipes. I’ll go to Miami, for example, and try all kinds of food.” His travels with his quarter horses lead him to many points out West, as well: “I get ideas for recipes from Texas, from Oklahoma, from California, everywhere.”
While Montano may not yet have scored any exotic culinary recipes in the farm country of Iowa, his recent trip there was still extremely rewarding. “My horse raced and won a derby,” he says with a proud grin. “The prize was $273,000.”