A la Carte: Amigo’s Café

Two locations are better than one for restaurants’ fans

Article Highlights

  • “There wasn’t much here when we came down and certainly no Mexican restaurant,”
  • “We employed a young Mexican artist to do the murals and I finished the rest – painting the ceiling with the clouds and the remainder of the painting.
  • “We took a trip to Mexico to get an idea and to learn the real cuisine.”

1000 N Collier Blvd
Marco, FL
Phone: 239-394-2221

Amigo’s of Marco opened on May 5, 2001. Everything here is always made to order. Tacos, chimichangas, burritos, tamales and rice and beans are a specialty at Amigo’s Restaurant.

More about Amigo's Marco Island »

11263 Tamiami Trl E
Naples, FL
Phone: 239-732-5655

More about Amigo's Cafe »

Ole Amigo’s!

No, it’s not a new Mexican restaurant, and yes to the “Ole” because it’s probably what Mexican food fans were shouting when the first Amigo’s Café opened at its original East Trail location 16 years ago.

“There wasn’t much here when we came down and certainly no Mexican restaurant,” said Rocio Llerena, the wife and partner of Ramiro Llerena, the couple who opened the original Amigo’s Café in June 1993 at 11263 E. Tamiami Trail in Naples.

Getting ahead of the story and to put things in perspective, the Llerena’s daughter Tammy and her husband Dan Morris decided to open Amigo’s Café at 1000 Collier Boulevard on Marco Island in 2000, but then Ramiro and Rocio bought them out and took over Amigo’s Café on Marco two years ago.

That having been said, Ramiro and Rocio Llerena were living in Madison Heights, Mich. and both working for General Motors in the late 1980s when they made the decision to move to Florida because they were fed up with the weather and tired of working for someone else. “We went on the map and followed I75 — you know it goes up to north Michigan — and we arrived in Naples.

“We needed to get a source of income and we didn’t want to work for someone else again. The opportunity came up and that’s how we learned about this place (East Trail). We’re both from Ecuador but we used to travel to Mexico on vacation and we used to patronize the ones (Mexican restaurants) in Michigan so it seemed like a good idea — to eventually open a Mexican restaurant — because there were none in the area,” said Ramiro and Rocio nodded in agreement explaining, “We took a trip to Mexico to get an idea and to learn the real cuisine.”

“We ate out a lot in Mexico and we talked a lot with the locals to learn about traditional dishes — the spices and seasonings. For instance, the ground cumin seed is a spice used for meat and fresh cilantro leaves are used to season the food. Our daughter Tammy used to work in a restaurant in Michigan and she said I’ll help you. Our daughter contributed a lot when we started; she worked in a successful restaurant in Michigan, working in the restaurant after school, and then eventually became the manager of the place — so she brought a lot to the table. When we bought the business there was the kitchen equipment and the bare architectural necessities like the bar. It used to be a Polish restaurant then an Irish pub: When the Irish went down, we took over in June 1993,” Rocio explained.

“The place was closed and it took us four or five months to get the permits and bring the kitchen up to code and then the decor,” said Ramiro.

“We employed a young Mexican artist to do the murals and I finished the rest – painting the ceiling with the clouds and the remainder of the painting. Sixteen years ago there was nothing much here — there were only two lanes on 41 almost to Airport (-Pulling Road). Especially on Sunday we used to count the cars passing by. Little by little people started to know us and business picked up and we had a nice lunch crowd from Naples and a lot of customers who came up from Marco.

“A lot of people, restaurant customers who lived in the area and many from Marco Island , let us know about the Marco location in first business strip (next to Fortunes). It used to be a Mexican restaurant but they too went down too just like the Irish pub. So we went down to Marco and Tammy and her husband Daniel decided to open the Marco Amigo’s. It was a good opportunity for the couple but there was really no room for advancement here in the near future because we had no plans to retire in the family,” Ramiro stated.

“Tammy and Dan ran the place six years and Dan was homesick,” Rocio explained, “So we bought them out and decided to run it in case they decided to come back. We took over two years ago and the employees – gratefully, have stayed here with us throughout. Salvadore (Martinez), of course is our very efficient and cheerful presence in the Marco Island Amigo’s. When we took over we didn’t have to do much. Tammy had refurbished the décor and we added the television to keep up with the times, but our menu has stayed the same in both restaurants and Alejandro (Castaneda), who was trained in the East Trail Amigo’s, is still here as our chef.

“Here, for the enchiladas we use four different kinds of cheese, and also for our authentic Mexican dishes we have a secret recipe with the 32 kinds of chili peppers in our seasoning, and that is what sets us apart from the local Mexican restaurants. Incidentally, we don’t use lard! We have never used it even though it is a traditional seasoning. We believe, and our customers in both restaurants tell us, that our food is just as tasty without it!” Rocio said emphatically while smiling sweetly.

“Yes,” Ramiro confirmed, “Our food does always taste good and we’ve always placed a high priority on quality. For our 16th year anniversary we have a special going in both Amigo’s. Our bottled beers are two for one as well as the sangria and Margaritas by the glass and our wines are also two for one. All in all we’ve had a good life and had a chance to meet many wonderful people throughout the 16 years we’ve been in business. Many have moved away but many of them return — especially people from Europe, the Germans, Irish and English — we’re always pleased to see them again. Not too long ago a gentleman, with his daughter, came by dressed in full Scottish regalia but he didn’t bring his bagpipes.

“We, Rocio and I, would like to thank our loyal customers for standing by us and for contributing to the success we’ve enjoyed for the last 16 years.

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