CRYSTAL LAKE – “I'm just a normal guy trying to do good things,” said Paul Morin, owner of Pablo’s Mexican Restaurant in Crystal Lake.
For 26 years, Morin has gone the extra mile to make his customers – and employees – feel like family.
Jennifer Falbo of Crystal Lake, a server/manager, has worked at the restaurant for more than eight years.
“I wouldn’t be who I am today if it wasn’t for Paul,” she said, fighting back tears.
“I’m a recovering addict. I had a huge substance abuse problem. He should have fired me – numerous times,” she said.
“There was one time he looked at me and he told me he saw a lot of potential in me. That meant everything to me. Somebody believed in me and actually said it.”
Falbo, who celebrates her 43rd birthday Wednesday, said she has since pulled her life together.
“I have a great support team in my family here at the restaurant, as well as at home,” she said.
“I love my life. I’m healthy. I have great kids and grandkids. I’m married to a wonderful man,” she said.
“There are many women who have come here and become stronger,” Falbo said.
“We're a family. We love our jobs,” she added.
“I am blessed,” Morin said. “I’m just an average guy with extraordinary opportunities to help people out.”
The wall speaks for itself. Dozens of thank-you plaques from community groups and organizations sponsored by Pablo’s fill the length of the wall in the dining room.
The dining room decor is reminiscent of a sunny beach in Mexico – a nice change of pace from the dreary March weather outside.
“People come to restaurants to rest and revive their spirits,” said Morin, 52, of Lake in the Hills.
“When somebody comes in and they have a whole lot of troubles, especially in this economy, they need a little bit of an escape for an hour or two,” Morin said.
Some customers have been coming to the restaurant ever since it opened 26 years ago, “including a couple of people that were here opening night,” Morin said.
“Paul has a lot of customers who have been coming in for so long they have become our friends,” Falbo said. “They let us participate in their lives and their family functions. That’s priceless. I’ve seen kids grow up here, and Paul has seen kids grow up here, get married and have kids.”
The food keeps them coming back.
Morin said he is always creating new dishes.
“For the longest time we were trying to be the middle of the road, and we have that intro-to-Mexican food, but other dishes have gone to that new style, more authentic.”
Recent additions are lobster tacos on weekends and fresh-squeezed margaritas.
“I’m my parents’ kid. I’ve got my mom’s taste buds and my dad’s work ethic,” he said.
For the future, Morin said he “dreams about a free-standing building.” But for right now, the plan is “stay lean and mean.” He has been working on improvements to the bar area and banquet room, which holds parties of 50.
But he always finds time to give back to the community.
“There are times when he leaves here and pays people to work so he can go donate his time at church,” Falbo said.
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