Locals may have noticed that the Casa Rojas Express Mexican restaurant in Island Village has changed its names to Miguelito’s Cocina Mexicana.
But the ownership, products and service still remain the same.
Miguel Rojas and his wife Alicia are now independent owners of the eatery. Previously, he was a part-owner with his father and brother for 14 years. His father has retired.
“I’ve always had this idea of bringing out my own brand…and this is an opportunity for me to actually get it out,” Rojas said. “There are times when you need to make changes. When you’re a business owner, you always have ideas.”
The restaurant just received its liquor license to serve beer and wine. Rojas said he hoped to have product in by this week. Another addition is the ability for people to order online. “It’s easier, it’s faster, but they’re welcome to call anytime as well,” Rojas said.
Additionally, he has plans to remodel the restaurant to better fit his new brand. He also plans to bring in more traditional Mexican dishes and vegetarian options.
Rojas moved to Bainbridge Island in 2001 to open the family restaurant. He said previously working at Taco Del Mar gave him a model to build off of.
“I started with the idea of bringing to the community a burrito place where people can enjoy homemade burritos,” he said. “I got the idea from them but I’m bringing my own recipes and product.”
While Rojas’s initial intention of moving to the island was purely for work, he soon found that it would be a great place to raise a family.
“It’s kind of nice to be in a place where you feel safe. You’re part of it, and everyone knows each other. We build a lot of friendships here, and they’re very solid friendships… We feel like this is our first home basically.”
When the business began Rojas and Alicia were cooks, but now that they’ve increased business, they have a staff of 12 who handle those duties.
“I still enjoy cooking,” Rojas said. “When I come out with new ideas and new menu items I get in the kitchen, and I create new recipes. I work as a chef here and there when I need to, but I’ve been pretty lucky lately that my staff is pretty stable. I’m here running the business, making sure everybody does their job.”
The restaurant has become a popular place for people to quickly grab food or for those who want to sit down, relax and enjoy a meal. Rojas credits the quality of their food, but more importantly, their customer service.
“Besides our product, I think it’s about how we treat our customers,” he said. “We treat them with respect, and we make them feel like they’re having a home meal…That’s how we think in Mexico; any family that comes and visits other families, they welcome you with food.”
Another benefit, Rojas said, is the flexibility to order what customers want and not just a set item that chooses the ingredients for them. “We don’t pick for them; they pick for them.”
For the last year during COVID-19, Rojas said the restaurant “suffered the first three months” but never had to close completely. They began delivering and doing pickup orders and tried to keep normal hours for their employees.
“Even though there wasn’t very much business we have to be consistent on our hours of operation,” he said. “Our business is keeping up pretty good even with the change of the company and COVID. We try to serve our community any way we can.”
They now are offering partial indoor seating, but Rojas said they don’t have much to offer anyway because they have to consider the people standing in line ordering food. He’s also working on offering outdoor seating now that the weather is getting nicer.