“I don’t like rain days.” Alfonso Estrada confesses as we take a seat under the palapa by the bar at the beautifully accoutred Litibu Grill, his latest restaurant offering. “It must be hard on business.” I quip noting the staff working hard to wipe and mop the open air section of the seating area as the misty rain continues. “I just don’t like them at all.” replies Alfonso and this makes sense as one begins to talk to and get to know this man of pure and simple warmth and light much like the sun he so loves.
As a young man in the 80’s Alfonso began his career in the clubs as a DJ. Far from the celebrity status now afforded DJs aka ‘electronic artists’, the DJs of the 80’s were largely unseen and unsung as they entertained the crowds filling the dance floor. In a pivotal moment Alfonso was asked by the club owner where he worked, a very important question, “Do you want to be a DJ the rest of your life?” Glancing around at some of the older DJs Alfonso didn’t take long to reply, “No.” The owner and soon to be mentor continued, “What do you like about being a DJ?” Again, Alfonso didn’t take long to reply, “I like to entertain the people, to be a host.” The owner then issued a challenge that Alfonso has answered and well – “If you want to learn the business I will show you from the ground up but I will tell you only one thing; think and do everything as if you were the owner.” From that moment forward Alfonso did just that and still does today. Starting in the back washing dishes and working his way to the front and still now as the owner himself, Alfonso has taken what he loved to do as a DJ, entertain and host, and turned it into a successful career.
The road to the present and ownership of two flagship restaurants at opposite ends of the Puerto Vallarta region has been marked by challenges and choices. Alfonso did not sail through the industry to his current estate. There was even a time where he took a break from the hospitality industry and worked in a family construction business, but the desire to entertain and host, to give people a place where they could meet and enjoy themselves in an atmosphere of relaxation and comfort, would not be denied. While remembering the lesson of his mentor with regard to his business, he also applied the concept to himself; recognizing that his understanding was of utmost importance to his being and that congruence in understanding and action in life was ultimately necessary. Alfonso adopted the teachings of Meher Baba as a guide to understanding which led him to make another pivotal change in his career. After spending the time necessary to work his way to literally the front door and management of a popular club, the dissonance of the club culture struck him like a blow to the head. How could he regularly choose and reject those who would be allowed in, those who would be allowed to enjoy his house as he hoped to make each one feel, and still maintain a personal standard wherein one of the principle tenets would be, “…to try to make others happy with brotherly or sisterly feeling for each one;“. Alfonso found it irreconcilable and so put behind him the night club or restaurant / night club concepts to pursue a restaurant experience where everyone would clearly get a sense of his personal pursuit to make them feel at home. As he did in this choice, Alfonso has met each challenge with a clear vision of his goals and has learned from each choice something that has carried him to today.
Today, we sit with Alfonso comfortably and talk as old friends while he and his staff ensure the guests who wisely braved the showers to attend know they are appreciated. As we talk patrons arrive and are greeted warmly and it is easy to feel at home without even the need to close one’s eyes as the very architecture around us says, “you are at home.” The new Litibu Grill the north end version of the now famous Ocean Grill created at the behest of appreciative and persistent customers of Ocean Grill in Punta De Mita is put together with the same “Mexican Feng Shui” that has made its sister grill such a delight to its clients for so long. Alfonso confesses he has always been interested in design, even pursuing Architecture for a time in school like his father. The family talent is evident and Alfonso’s design penchant spills over into every area of the restaurant. Even the “reservations only” policy which bristles some who occasionally appear unannounced is designed to promote and preserve the desired experience. Alfonso explains that he wants to offer a hearty and quality meal that is created from ample ingredients purchased and prepared that day and not something frozen and molecular that you have difficulty identifying. We all chuckle at the comment but there is no questioning the serious nature of Alfonso’s intent and design. He continues that he wants to have an idea who is arriving so that he and his staff are prepared in every way. It is as though he makes each patron feel as though they have been before and will return again, like to an old friend’s home, even at their first moments.
His journey has brought him to the place where his corporate mantra “think and do everything as if you are the owner.” has intersected with his personal mantra of leading a sincere life at peace with all and the resultant ethos pervades everything.
Our chat over as we watch a family enjoys the beach, a little girl running through the soft sand with the wind in her hair, carefree. It is a contagious feeling that reaches us easily because where we sit has been crafted to do so. Our departure is met with embraces and thanks and as we travel down the rural road we know that we will return, to feed our stomachs and souls at our host Alfonso’s casa, our casa. Well done amigo.