C. Manny’s Underlying Support System

Kelly Aarstad

Incredible, fresh food is not the only thing guaranteed at C. Manny’s. When you are treated like family at C. Manny’s, it’s no wonder that an entire neighborhood would petition against them from moving.  Long-standing employee María Elena Rodriguez remembers when the lease was up and they were forced to tell their customers the restaurant would be changing locations. The warm and friendly atmosphere accompanied by the authentic Mexican-Cuban fare was going to be missed by many.

What made you choose to work at C. Manny’s?

Well, I was working with Manuela’s brother [the owner] at the time and I had asked his wife how Manuela was, and she had told me that she had just opened up a restaurant [and] they had 99-cent margarita special on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 3 to 6, which drove in a great crowd. There were no Mexican restaurants in the area, whatsoever. It was just what the neighborhood was asking for. Our first customers were mostly families. Many of them actually became like family to me. From there, they recommended it to other people, and soon enough, people came from all over the neighborhood. The bond between C. Manny’s and the neighborhood was strong from the very beginning.

How much time would you say it took for the restaurant to draw in people from the neighborhood?

No time at all. Since day one, we were busy all the time. We had very specific rush hours. From 12-3 PM, it would be jam-packed for lunch. Then it would slow down for a while and, sure enough, we’d be running around again by 6 PM. Everyone wanted to come in because we had windows that surrounded the front of the building, so people could look in. At night, we would light all of the candles, and dim the lights. People passing by would be attracted to the nice, welcoming atmosphere.

It sounds like you had a really strong network of regular customers at C. Manny’s. What did you do to prepare them for the move to Irving Park Road?

We didn’t really have to do any advertising. The news was spread by word of mouth about a month before the move. We eventually put up a huge sign when it got closer to the move. Also, we’ve had the same phone number for the past 20 something years, so it wasn’t hard to find us. Besides, it’s not that far of a stretch, we’re just 2 blocks away from the [previous] location. There was actually a big meeting over at the community center because the patrons didn’t want us to move. We were looking for a place, the lease was due and they couldn’t find anything closer. Over 200 people from the neighborhood voted because there were no nice family restaurants in the area. They wanted our restaurant, a nice family restaurant. But the move ended up being a great opportunity for us, because on top of former customers we got a lot of new people on the other side of Irving Park to come to C. Manny’s.

An old newspaper article about C. Manny's

Were there any changes made to the restaurant, food etc. to draw in customers at the new location?

Our food recipes have been then same for years and years…while the waitresses, like myself, have also been the same for years and years! We’ve really kept everything the same, even the margarita recipe. I would have to say the décor is really different than the past location, though. We’ve hung up the zarapes (Mexican string puppets) instead of plants because we’ve received so many compliments on them. A lot of the time, it’s the first remark to come out of a customer’s mouth. Now we have white tablecloths instead of green and white striped ones. We also have glass table covers and vases filled with different flowers depending on the season. It gives the restaurant a really nice and refined look.

What do you think keeps people coming back to C. Manny’s?

Besides the food being absolutely fresh here, our customer service is [a] priority. Everyone is treated like family and ends up becoming like family. Personally, I like it when the server or bartender takes the time to talk to me and make me feel welcome. That’s exactly what all of us do here at C. Manny’s. Everyone is very welcoming and pleasant here, and I’d have to say that’s the biggest reason people keep coming back to us.

My family and I had started going to C. Manny’s around 15 years ago and we still do. We’ve always been treated like family and that’s why we’ve always come back. It happened to be a great thing that C. Manny’s did move because they have practically doubled their customer base without losing any of their former customers. The fact that that C. Manny’s customer service has highly contributed to its flourishing success is at the very least, remarkable.

Author, Kelly Aarstad and C. Manny's Employee, Maria Elena Rodriguez

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