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A Family Affair - Fonseca Factory Restaurant

L-R, Chino, Lupe, Ivan

In 1999, Ivan (pronounced Ē-von) Croess Fonseca set out from his home in Venezuela for a short visit with his aunt and uncle who lived in Guntersville.  After a few weeks, Ivan found himself with a little cash flow problem.  He had enjoyed his stay so much that he suddenly found himself without money for the return trip.  Not wanting to call his mother and ask for money, Ivan decided that he needed to get a job to pay his way home.  His uncle was a partner in the Buena Vista Mexican Restaurants scattered across North Alabama.  With his pride in hand, Ivan asked his uncle for a job busing tables and washing dishes in the Guntersville restaurant.  After a while he was able to move up to a waiter position.  "It was a good feeling to earn my own money", Ivan says, "and I fell in love with the United States".  It wasn't long before Ivan decided that America was going to be his permanent home and he set out to develop a career for himself.

"My mother and father thought I was crazy when I told them that I wanted to stay in America", Ivan admits.  But it wasn't long before he had convinced his younger brother, Chino and his mother, Lupe to make the journey to America to share in his excitement about the USA.

Ivan, says that he had never worked before coming to America.  In Venezuela his father was in the oil business and Lupe was a petroleum engineer.  "In Venezuela your only real opportunity is if you are in the oil business", Ivan explains.  "The oil people own almost all of the businesses and those not born into the oil business have little hope of ever being able to improve their life."  "In America anything is possible.  It is just a matter of time and hard work," Ivan says emphatically.

"I spoke no English when I came to America and I felt that it was a real challenge to see if I could make it here," Ivan says with some pride.  "I learned to speak English by trying to read the closed captioning on the TV".

With his first earnings, Ivan says that he bought a 1985 Ford Mustang for $800.  With his ever present smile, Ivan confides that, "Everyone in America loves the Ford Mustang".  "There was no radio or air conditioning but it was a good feeling to earn the money for my own car".

When his uncle decided to close the Buena Vista Restaurant in Arab, Alex Sierra bought the restaurant, changing the name to Sierra's Mexicanissimo. Ivan decided to stay with Sierra and took a leading role in the day to day operations.  By this time Chino and Lupe were also working at Sierra's.

Ivan, who recently turned 25 was reminded, by his mother, of a statement that he had made a few years ago. "Maybe I will own my own restaurant by the time I an 25," he had said.  "I have been so busy that I forgot saying that," Ivan says.  "Mom has always told me to dream big," he grins.

Ivan and family spent several months transforming the former bank building into an attractive restaurant.  Oversight of equipment installation and construction was handled by Ivan and Chino.  "We did the heavy lifting," Ivan says, "but mom was responsible for the decor".

Surveying the dining area, it is evident that Lupe could have a successful future in the interior decorating business.  The warm brown walls in the main dining area are tastefully appointed with a decorative chair rail.  The black and white photographs and wall accessories compliment the black ceiling and floor.  Carefully placed plants, a center table with floral arrangements and subdued lighting, combine to provide a feeling of privacy. "It would have been less expensive to just use the fluorescent lighting that was in the building," Ivan said, "but we wanted to provide a different atmosphere for our customers".  "We decided to take the extra time and expense to get the feeling that we wanted".

Enjoying their first visit to the restaurant, Wayne and Norma Burgett were impressed with the decor and menu choices.  Norma said, "You feel as if  you have gone to Huntsville to a nice place, but it is right here in Arab".

A private dining room is also available for meetings and private parties and is decorated with a slightly brighter color scheme.  Furniture, plants and wall accessories make it seem more like a home dining room.

When asked to categorize the type of restaurant, Ivan explained that there was no dominant theme to the menu.  Instead, they decided to offer a wide variety of items from pasta to steaks and burgers.  "That is why we chose  Fonseca Factory as the name," Ivan explained.  "It  doesn't tie us to a particular type of menu."  "If you name a restaurant Joe's Barbecue, then everyone expects barbecue, but with a name like Fonseca Factory, we can change the menu if we need to."

The restaurant is open seven days per week, with a lunch menu each day from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m..  Monday through Thursday, dinner is served from 5 to 8 p.m. and from 5 p.m. until 9 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.  Sunday hours are from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. only. The restaurant is closed on Sunday evenings to allow for family time and relaxation.  According to Ivan, "The response has been great".  "Much better than we expected," he added.

Ivan credits a lot of people for the early success.  "Kathy and Dr. Mike Freeman have been big supporters," he noted. He also went on to thank his brother Chino for his tremendous support also.  "Chino and I do most of the cooking," he said.  Chino, age 23, wants to become a doctor.  He is currently enrolled at Gadsden State Community College and hopes to go to UAB after completing his studies in Gadsden.

The family lives in Arab and has become a part of the community.  "I love Arab, it is a nice quiet town and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else," Ivan said.  Ivan and family are not yet American citizens, but they are working toward that goal.  Ivan says that 911 has made it more difficult to gain citizenship.  "What used to take seven years can now take about eleven years," he said, "but we intend to become citizens as soon as possible".  "I feel like America is more my home than Venezuela," Ivan concludes.

Click here to view lunch menu.

Click here to view dinner menu.

Fonseca Factory Restaurant
1082 N. Brindlee Mtn. Parkway, Arab, AL  35016
Tel.: (256) 931-7687   Fax: (256) 931-7688



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