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From Humble Beginnings

Impromptu meal served at couple's market led them to open an Ojai restaurant.

November 28, 1998|RODNEY BOSCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It was Thanksgiving Day 1995, and the late afternoon sun was fast fading, when a family passing through Ojai stopped at Ruben and Leticia Salinas' La Hacienda market on the outskirts of town.

"They were hungry. All of the town was closed. They asked for something to eat," Leticia Salinas recalled.

There was not much the modest La Hacienda could offer in the way of ready-to-eat food. The Mexican grocery store, located on Ojai Avenue, specialized in spices, chiles, mole and other ethnic fare.

Still, Leticia answered, "We can do that," and she whipped up some sandwiches for the vacationing passersby.

Click. An idea flashed. Why not complement the grocery business with freshly made food to go? Soon the Salinases were serving homemade menudo and soft tacos on Sundays, followed by an expanded daily lunch menu and occasional evening entertainment.

Skip ahead to November 1998. Those improvised sandwiches and the resulting culinary inspiration have provided the Salinases a ticket into downtown Ojai and all that foot traffic.

"We have wanted this for three years," Leticia Salinas said.

The couple are the proud owners of the newly opened Los Caporales, housed in the former Pastabilities site next to Libbey Park.

"It's going very nice," Salinas said at the restaurant during a recent bustling dinner. "We have a lot of old customers, but a lot of new faces coming in too."

While La Hacienda is gone after 11 years, at Los Caporales, a mile or so up the road, dedication to authentic Mexican fare remains.

"We make all the food, fresh, from scratch. Nothing comes from a can," Salinas said.

Many of the dishes, Salinas said, are generational recipes that originated in Guadalajara and were handed down by family members. Included on the menu is a 100-year-old recipe for chiles rellenos con carne de la abuelita, and Salinas is quick to explain its familial link:

When her mother was a child, the family would make an arduous summer trip over primitive roads from Guadalajara to a tiny village called Zapotlanejo.

"The trip would take two days, even though it was only about 30 miles away," Salinas said. A big batch of the chiles rellenos was always prepared to sustain the family during the trek.

The three menus at the restaurant--breakfast, lunch and dinner--also include dishes from Ruben Salinas' side of the family, plus many carry-over items from the La Hacienda days.

The simple dining space seats about 40 in wooden chairs hand-carved by Michoacan Indians. Outdoor patio seating is also available.

Los Caporales is in the Ojai Valley Paseo at 307 E. Ojai Ave. Hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. and 5-9 p.m. Wednesday through Monday. Call 646-5452.

*

Step inside Damon's in Simi Valley, and you might think you've entered a Las Vegas sports book. But those aren't racing forms or parlay cards folks are studying at their tables.

More than likely, patrons at the new sports-themed restaurant are hunched over a heaping plate of St. Louis-style ribs or a slab of prime rib.

And all the while, four gigantic wall-mounted video screens and many more monitors are televising sporting events of all sorts--from professional, collegiate and amateur ranks.

Welcome to the 129th restaurant in the Damon's International chain--an Ohio-based company that operates mainly on the East Coast, with two outlets in the United Kingdom.

The restaurant is owned by franchisee David Feeney of Granada Hills, who left the human resources business after 17 years because he caught "an ownership bug." Feeney knew he wanted a restaurant, but it took him a couple of years before deciding on the Damon's way.

"I saw a concept that is not duplicated in Southern California," Feeney said. "There are some very good sports bars, and for people looking for a sports experience we can accommodate that. But what we really like to emphasize is that we are a full-service, family-oriented restaurant."

This is a large space, festooned with sports memorabilia, including a wall dedicated to the Los Angeles Dodgers. It has seating for 300.

An extensive menu includes appetizers, chicken, steak, seafood, salads, ribs galore, sandwiches and children's fare. And what's a steak and rib joint without an onion loaf?

Damon's is at 2410 Sycamore Drive. Hours: Monday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-midnight; Sunday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Call 582-7427.

Rodney Bosch writes about the restaurant scene in Ventura County and outlying points. He can be reached at 653-7572, fax 653-7576 or by e-mail at: rodney.bosch@latimes.com.

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