On Restaurants | Industry veteran realizes dream with Azteca Mexican Grill

Dishes from southern Mexico, specialty margaritas join more-familiar fare

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  • Adam CairnS | DISPATCH photos
    Manny Pasillas plans a patio at his second Azteca Mexican Grill, which has several southern Mexican specialties on the menu.
  • Ensenada fish tacos with Mexican rice and plantains at Azteca Mexican Grill
  • Adam Cairns | DISPATCH
    Azteca Mexican Grill opened six months ago in a former Iacono’s at 5925 Sawmill Rd., Dublin.

Jul 23, 2013

For Manny Pasillas, an empty nest has turned into two restaurants.

Pasillas is the owner of the Azteca Mexican Grills.

He opened the first, on Powell Road, in 2010. He filled the menu with standard Mexican fare, along with southern Mexican specialties such as fried plantains and queso fundido. He also revamped the margarita menu; his specialty mixes have been dubbed “Mannyritas.”

Business was better than he expected, so he decided to expand, turning the former Iacono’s pizza shop on Sawmill Road in Dublin into the second Azteca Mexican Grill. It opened about six months ago.

The restaurant-industry veteran spent decades crisscrossing the country, opening, closing and working in national restaurant chains such as T.G.I. Friday’s and Chi-Chi’s. The time finally came when he felt the urge to open a restaurant of his own.

“My kids are all grown and my wife is back in college, so no one pays attention to me anymore at home,” he said with a laugh, so he took the plunge.

“You roll the dice and hope for the best. Besides, how long was I going to wait to try, until I’m 80? I couldn’t wait that long, so when the opportunity came, I did it.”

The opening of the second Azteca was a quiet affair. The signs on the outside of the building didn’t even go up until spring, as Pasillas wanted to make sure the restaurant was running smoothly before announcing its grand opening.

Despite his low-key approach, “Business has been good and steady,” he said — so good, in fact, that he’s still in expansion mode. About a month ago, Pasillas opened a small patio space at the Sawmill Road restaurant. Next month, he will expand the dining room, adding more seating to accommodate the steady flow of guests.

Going out on his own seems to have paid off.

“I worried about how I was going to do it, with the economy, and I had a lot of hurdles, but. well, right now I feel good about it,” Pasillas said.

“ The restaurant business can be brutal, but I love it. It’s so rewarding.”

Sandwiches for hire

Lexi’s on Third, at 100 E. Broad St., will soon add three items to the menu: a fish sandwich, a club sandwich and a turkey burger. But their names will be a little more philanthropic than those of other specialty items on the menu, such as the Picky Nicki or the Hungry Bavarian. Dan Georges, who also owns Danny’s Deli at 37 W. Broad St., is selling one-year naming rights to the three new sandwiches to raise the $7,500 needed to fund Lexi’s Pelotonia team.

Pelotonia is a cycling event Aug. 9-11 that raises money for cancer research in central Ohio.

The Lexi’s team, which includes Georges and some of his friends and neighbors, has chosen to ride the 50-mile route, one of six available to participants. “We really wanted to do our own team but were hesitant because we just didn’t know if we could raise that kind of money,” Georges said.

That is when the idea to sell sandwich naming rights came to him. At Lexi’s, “A lot of people that come into the restaurant would love to have a sandwich named after them or their company,” Georges said. “It’s bragging rights, really, to bring in customers or friends and order the sandwich named after you.”

One of the three sandwiches already has been named by an anonymous patron from Cleveland, whose wife died of cancer two years ago. The “Marina” sandwich will soon appear on the menu, thanks to a donation of $1,250. It hasn’t been decided which of the new sandwiches will bear that name.

The sandwich-naming rights last for one year, and the philanthropic benefits will be noted on the menu.

Off the menu

• Honey Dip Donuts, 4480 Kenny Rd., will be closed Wednesday to Aug. 2 for vacation.

• Auddino’s Italian Bakery, 3560 Fishinger Rd., Hilliard, is now open from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Sundays.

• White Rabbit will open in August at 456 S. Front St. in the Brewery District. The new restaurant belongs to Commonwealth Sandwich Bar owners Erik Till and Lisa Edge.

Dispatch restaurant columnist Denise Trowbridge can be reached at onrestaurants@dispatch.com.