Ecuadorean immigrant, 26, realizes restaurant dream in Orange
Marcelo Astudillo came to the United States through Mexico nine years ago with nothing but the shirt on his back, but has opened his first restaurant, “Astudillo’s Place,” on the busy Route 1 corridor.
Astudillo, now 26, came to this country at age 17 seeking economic opportunity and worked his way up from dishwasher, to cook, to overseeing operations in a restaurant that belonged to someone else.
Now, the humble, soft spoken Astudillo is in charge.
“I came here to work and get ahead. I wanted to learn everything,” Astudillo said through an interpreter.
He started the East Coast journey in New Jersey, came to Connecticut and lived in Danbury and has since moved to Orange.
The restaurant is a tiny place set back on the main drag at 223 Boston Post Road next to a hair salon and in the spot where Roly Poly sandwich shop was located for years. Passers-by could blink and miss it.
Although Astudillo has added his own signature seasonings and touches, the menu for breakfast, lunch and dinner consists of all American food.
He can cook Ecuadorean food for himself, but the cuisine hasn’t made it onto the menu.
Astudillo said he offers burgers that he makes by hand from fresh meat — never frozen — with a hint of seasoning to add a unique taste.
His french fries are made from fresh, unpeeled potatoes — a recipe from an Irish friend— also with a hint of secret seasoning.
For breakfast, they have omelets, French toast, wraps and pancakes, and for lunch and dinner, salads and sandwiches, including a popular chicken apple walnut salad — one of his signature recipes — and a Philly cheesesteak sandwich customers love.
Astudillo said although he learned and worked every aspect of the business previously, it’s more intense running it all on his own while also being the chef. The restaurant is open Monday through Saturday from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. His cousin, Diego Cilderon, is a partner in the business, but not involved with day-to-day operations.
Astudillo researched the area before opening in Orange and determined that although there are a lot of fast-food and other restaurants on that strip, he could set himself apart by offering freshness above all else.
The atmosphere in the restaurant is bright, clean and simple. He has two tall tables with umbrellas in front for outside dining.
Astudillo said that while Ecuador is a beautiful country it is short on economic opportunity. He misses his family, but has some family in the United States, including four brothers.
“I began like everyone else did — washing dishes. In two years, I knew how to cook,” he said.
Astudillo said he’s hoping the restaurant in Orange is only the beginning, as he is dreaming big.
It’s been less than two months in business, but Astudillo said there are promising signs — most of all in the same customers returning for more.