There is a new flavor in Mineola, thanks to two dedicated and talented former Sarabeth’s employees.
Co-owners Maryellen Villalta and Israel Aguilar, committed to fresh, homemade cuisine, have brought their extensive restaurant experience to the in Mineola. Aguilar acts as chef, while Villalta takes the role of waitress at the establishment.
Involved in the restaurant industry since she was 16 years old, Villalta ran the café, restaurant and catering for Lord & Taylor Fifth Avenue under Larry Forgione for about two years. She then moved to the Garden City location as restaurant manager, where she was for 6 years, eventually helping to establish the Sarabeth’s at that Lord & Taylor.
Aguilar and Villalta met when she was in the city helping out with another Sarabeth’s. Villalta knew immediately that Aguilar, who worked for the chain for about 20 years at locations including the Whitney Museum, had a talent. She insisted that he come work at the Garden City location.
and food quality, they decided last year to pursue their dream together in a freer environment.
“I think one of the reasons we wanted to get out of working for other people is we have so many of our own ideas and our own style of cooking and flavors,” Villalta said.
“One day [Israel] said just do it because you have been talking about it for two years,” she continued. “Just do it and I did. From the time I said I was doing it was about two to three months and I was signing a lease.”
The lease for the Chef’s Corner Café was signed in July 2011 and the was opened in October in the former “Mo’ Joe” location. Villalta said they offer fresh food made with quality ingredients, including popular homemade soups like the Mexican hominy. “Every restaurant has a chicken soup, but this is ours,” she added.
“We’ve tried the food around here and I just think we are a different quality,” she said. “We are a lot fresher and are always trying to come up with something new.”
One of the café’s main draws is the extensive brunch, which has been well received by patrons. Aguilar cooks up additional omelet specials on Saturdays and Sundays. Villalta said that business has been good so far and that “everybody that has come in has loved the food.”
The café also boosts their own homemade pastries - Marcelo’s Baked Goods - courtesy of Marcelo Gonsalez, who is a pastry chef at Sarabeth’s. Aguilar’s cousin, Eric, makes the pastries from Gonsalez's recipes. Villalta said it is amazing that Aguilar, Gonsalez and Eric get to share their talent with hungry customers.
Villalta explained that it has been great to see their customers’ reactions when coming to the Chef’s Corner Café for the first time. She added that people are often shocked at how good the food is.
“Just to be able to see the reactions of the people when you have been thinking about doing this plate for ten years and you could never do it yourself,” she said. “Just to see people's reactions is what keeps us going.”