Santiago's Mexican Restaurants, a homegrown chain, got its start in 1990 at a single store in Brighton, with a very special ingredient -- owner Carmen Morales used her mother Rachel's recipe for Santiago's now-famous "Authentic Green Chile Sauce with Pork."
From one store grew many, and today there are twenty full-service (no liquor, though) dining locations and four limited-service or "Express" locations, spread from Arvada to Golden, all owned and operated by either a Morales family member or their lucky friends and in-laws.
After visiting the Commerce City location, I spoke with Carmen Morales, who is as saucy -- and serious -- as her food.
Westword: When you started Santiago's in 1990, you committed to serving only freshly prepared foods. With the expansion to 24 stores, have you had to make any adjustments to serving only fresh food?
Morales: No adjustments had to be made, as we have vendors who deliver all produce, meats, tortillas three times a week, and we only cook what we know we will sell.
How many gallons of chile sauce do you think Santiago's sold last year? Are you surprised by how popular your chile sauce is with customers?
Approximately 204,000 gallons, not including resale and wholesale production.
Yes, I am always surprised and so grateful that we have awesome customers -- they are hot, just like our chile!
I noticed that some of the restaurants are owned by you, some by other people, and some are "corporate-owned." Could you briefly explain the ownership/management of the restaurants for the readers?
I have three daughters, and they and their spouses are all in the business -- this is our board -- and some of the owners are family members. Others are dedicated and dear employees who worked for me when I opened the first Santiago's.
What made you decide to open the first Santiago's? Why did you want to go into the restaurant business?
I really didn't open the first Santiago's for me; it was to give employment to friends and family who were having difficulties. I worked organizing and empowering youth, and I guess I learned something from it.
Are there any current expansion plans for Santiago's? Any new menu items in the near future?
I think expansion is always a possibility, but we like to take it slow to ensure that all Santiago's are at the same level.
I would love to add red-chile pork chops, and some awesome vegetarian enchiladas to die for.
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In the meantime, how do the current offerings at Santiago's stack up? Find out later today, when my review will be posted on Cafe Society.