Chela’s Owners Explain the Delay

Driving by my old Foggy Bottom Coffee House spot, I saw lights on and thought … could it be? Could it really be? I wheeled in, parked, jumped out and tugged on the front door. It was still locked. Sigh. Chela’s wasn’t open yet.

But I could see people moving around back in the kitchen. I wiped my drooling mouth and went around to the back door where I caught up with Adrian and Lori Iraola, owners of Chela’s, to see what the latest word is on their restaurant opening here in Dexter.

The new look dining room patiently waiting for hungry customers (photo courtesy Christy Hartman Vander Haagen)

For the past year, Dexter has been teased that, at last, Dexter would get its long-desired Mexican restaurant. We’ve only wanted one since forever. The Iraolas have also been working to get into Dexter for a long time signing a lease for the old coffee shop spot a year ago. Lori and Adrian are well aware it has been a long delay since that signing and certainly didn’t plan it that way. But as the saying goes, “Life gets in the way.”

“I had a close family member who was diagnosed with a tragic condition,” Lori explains. “I offered to step back from the restaurants and help the family during what was a very difficult time. Adrian supported me in the decision. Unfortunately, it brought the Dexter restaurant to a halt.”

In addition to Lori helping her family out, the Iraolas had also opened a Chela’s in the old Jerusalem Garden location in Ann Arbor. In refurbishing the restaurant, it became much more of a project than they had anticipated.

“It turned out that nothing was up to code,” Lori says. “Everything had to be redone much more than we ever expected.”

“Being a restaurant, we thought it would be easier to convert it for our purposes,” Adrian adds. “Things moved much slower in that location and we were already committed to Dexter.”

The artwork is an original fresco where the painting is done rapidly in watercolor on wet plaster on a wall or ceiling, so that the colors penetrate the plaster and becomes fixed as it dries (photo courtesy Christy Hartman Vander Haagen)

Dexter was put on hold to complete the work on the Ann Arbor spot. “We took 18 truckloads of junk out of the basement alone,” says Adrian. ar

They’ve had their hands full to say the least.

“Opening an authentic Mexican restaurant has always been a dream of Adrian’s,” Lori says. “Even back when we were dating he would talk about how he wanted to serve fresh food, the way it really is in Mexico.”

After retiring from a 25-year career in architectural engineering with the City of Ann Arbor, Adrian got his wish and opened Chela’s on the corner of Liberty and Maple Rd in Ann Arbor. This is what he loves: sharing authentic Mexican food.

“The food that the Mexican restaurants serve around here isn’t the food they eat in Mexico,” explains Adrian. “It isn’t fresh, flavorful, or healthy, and people think this stuff is Mexican food. It’s embarrassing.”

If you’ve ever eaten at Chela’s, you’ve experienced the difference for yourself. Since opening the original Chela’s on the corner of Liberty and Maple in 2012, Chela’s has been a huge hit in setting a new standard for fresh Mexican food. The downtown store opened last year was just as popular being chosen Best Taco in Michigan by MLive.

Unlike the other two locations, the Dexter Chela’s will be a full service restaurant with a full bar. The lunch menu will be the same but new dishes are in the works for dinner.  The menu start small but grow as operations allow. Adrian explained that the plan now is to have a couple of soft, practice openings by invitation only to help identify and resolve any kinks in the operation before opening up the doors to the general public.

All that stands between the Iraolas and the opening are mechanical and electrical inspections with final approval. Then the fun begins. There is a stage set up for a DJ. Lori is hoping for “Salsa and Sangria Nights” with dancing and lessons for those wanting to learn the popular and energetic dance.

“We are thrilled to be in Dexter,” says Lori. “We have wanted to do this here for years and are excited that it is finally happening.”

For the Iraolas, opening a Chela’s in Dexter goes well beyond just having another business. They are looking forward to being a part of the vibrant community life with their own energetic contribution of food and activities.

For anyone interested in being part of this cool new scene in Dexter, you can apply by sending a résumé to eaquino656@gmail.com, or if you see the lights on, just knock on the door and enjoy a few minutes getting to know the Iraolas for yourself.

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