By Weston Lanpher
Imagine you meet someone who is new to Sapulpa; they’re impressed by the Christmas Chute, the new restaurants, the newly paved roads, and even how well the Sapulpa High School team is doing this year. They turn to you and say, “Hey, why don’t we get Mexican food tonight? Do you know of a good place?” Even as a relatively recent transplant to the Sapulpa area, I know there’s only one correct answer: Señor Pablo.
However, when I moved to Sapulpa in 2014, Señor Pablo never came up in conversation when we would ask around about where was good to eat in town and I only recently figured out why. But before we talk about the comeback, we have to talk about the humble beginnings. I asked Pablo and Dunia to meet me and share some background about how Señor Pablo came to be in Sapulpa.
Back in 2001, Pablo was working at a restaurant called Mexico Lindo in Jefferson City, Missouri. He had worked his way up to being an unofficial manager when the owner offered to bring him down to the new branch in Owasso. After some time at the Owasso location, another location opened up at 41st and Garnett. A few months after that, another location opened in Sapulpa between the Whataburger and Central Tech. The location did well enough that the owner offered to make him a partner.
But behind every successful man is a strong woman and Dunia Ascencio is no exception. She heard about the offer and had an idea: why not open their own restaurant? Why be a partner when they could be the owners?
So they started looking for a building. They had a few options, a few deals fell through because of various reasons like the cost to retrofit a building for restaurant use and the seller increasing the sale price at the last moment. Eventually, they found a building next to the fire department on Dewey Avenue.
Pablo recalls the first few months of trying to spread the word; after all, they were competing with an established restaurant with similar offerings.
“Every day, knocking on doors…Every day, in the parking lot with a sombrero,” he remarked with a smile. I’m sure those months were stressful but Pablo seems more bemused than bothered.
Thankfully, the ball got rolling pretty quickly and Señor Pablo became very popular.
A few years of the restaurant go by when disaster strikes: 2 weeks before Christmas of 2013, on the very same day Dunia’s parents arrive to stay for the holidays, the building catches fire and is unsalvageable.
Now I know why Señor Pablo wasn’t mentioned.
Pablo and Dunia used their contacts to quickly get their workers new jobs. Pablo began working plumbing and Dunia got a job in downtown Tulsa. They knew they wanted their restaurant back but were willing to be patient about finding the right place. They also knew they wanted to stay in Sapulpa because Sapulpa had become their home.
“Sometimes, God has a plan and it’s better than we plan,” Pablo said.
Most of 2014 passes before a friend calls with a possible option: He knew they were looking and had heard that the building across the street from their old location was going on the market. It had been a restaurant previously, and reopening Pablo’s would not take much effort.
They bought the building and opened it in March 2015.
Surely, there was some trepidation about opening back up and having to essentially start all over again but Sapulpa rallied around their best Mexican food and Señor Pablo was never in trouble.
Recently, Señor Pablo opened a new location in downtown Tulsa, in the One Williams Place BOK Tower food court, which has taken a lot of Pablo’s time.
However, you’ll still catch Pablo in Sapulpa manning the desk and cracking jokes with the locals.
Though the restaurant in Tulsa is quickly gaining it’s own loyal following, Dunia says that Sapulpa will always be home.
“We appreciate all the love and support…we’ll never leave.”