CRYSTAL LAKE – Jennifer Falbo credits Pablo's Mexican Restaurant and its former owner with saving her life.
That's why when Paul Morin told her he was looking to sell, she decided to buy, taking over the restaurant at the beginning of December.
Falbo has been with Pablo's Mexican Restaurant for nearly 12 years as a server and then also as a manager. The structure, consistency and knowing that Morin believed in her helped her overcome her substance abuse problems.
Known as Morin's "work wife" by the staff, Fablo is "the only one for that spot," said Morin, who has moved back to south Texas where his family is.
Her corporate experience, the problems she had to overcome and her people skills will help her make the transition a success, he said.
"I couldn't see Pablo's closing," Fablo said. "I couldn't see Pablo's leaving the community. [The second reason is] my co-workers. These people are family here. The back of the house, which is the heart of the house, which is the cooks, they are a big part of my life down all the way to the servers and the hostesses."
The hardest part of assuming ownership has been shifting from a friend-and-coworker role to a boss and figuring out where she can be the most help, she said. Pablo's has been known for supporting community groups for a long time.
Her husband, Freddie Falbo, has been put to work with a "honey, please do" list.
Her oldest daughter, Sarah Ashley Sobel, has joined the staff as their newest waitress. The next newest joined the restaurant four years ago.
It's that sense of family among Falbo, her staff and the restaurant's customers that built a solid regiment of regulars, including one that helped Fablo come up with the money to buy the restaurant, she said.
While Fablo has some big plans for the place, she plans on keeping the food and atmosphere the same as it's always been.
Pablo's Mexican Restaurant has been at its 230 W. Virginia St. location for 27 years. A former seafood restaurant, Morin kept the glass portholes that provide glimpses of each side of the restaurant.
The walls are brightly colored, and large-bulbed, multi-colored lights give the bar area a festive feel. The booths' tables are accented with ceramic tiles, candles in multi-colored glass jars and a small cup of crayons.
Marty Smith has been coming to Pablo's once a week for the past year though he's known Morin for over two decades. The restaurant is close to his office, has a great wait staff and a friendly atmosphere, he said.
"I just had lunch there Thursday," the McHenry resident said. "It was outstanding. It hasn't changed."
The changes Fablo has planned are aimed at bringing in more customers and making sure people know that Pablo's isn't closing, Fablo said.
It will now offer delivery and catering, and will allow customers to pre-order their food so that it's ready when they arrive. Fablo also plans on making Pablo's a presence at area festivals, something the restaurant hasn't done in 10 years.
The restaurant is now a member of the Crystal Lake Chamber of Commerce and will be hosting an upcoming Chamber mixer. Fablo hopes to have live music on the weekends starting in March and a party for Cinco de Mayo.
Fablo also plans to give more free rein to the cooks, including longtime head cook Noe Garcia, letting them develop featured items not currently on the menu. A skinny margarita made with agave, tequila and freshly squeezed lime juice has already been added.
Her long-term plans include moving Pablo's out of the strip mall where it's currently located to its own free standing building, selling the salsa in grocery stores and franchising the restaurant.
Pablo's Mexican Restaurant
What is it? A Mexican restaurant
What does it make? Pablo's is known for its salsa and freshly squeezed margaritas.
Where is it? 230 W. Virginia St. in Crystal Lake.
For more information: 815-455-7398