Homemade Mexican food helps restaurant grow s owners look toward a new location in Molalla

Aldo Schroeder and his mother Carmen Valasquez opened Chapala Express in Canby just a bit over a year ago and it's doing so well they are considering opening a couple more in Salem and Oregon City. They also plan to have one in their home city of Molalla, probably in another year or so.

But get this, their restaurant might be serving food to people nine hours a day, but they also work full-time jobs. Schroeder at Woodcraft Industries Inc., Valasquez for the State of Oregon.

Schroeder says it's been his life-long dream to open a restaurant. When he was about eight years old, his parents owned a restaurant in the Kelso/Longview area of Washington.

That closed and his family, including his five siblings, moved to Molalla.

CAROL ROSEN - Mike Right, an Aurora Airport business owner, enjoyed his first visit to Chapala Express and plans to return.

His family initially came from the area around Guadalajara. The town is near the biggest lagoon in Mexico called Chapala, hence the restaurant name. They moved from Kelso, Wash., down to Molalla about eight years ago.

Since moving to the states he and his family have become American citizens.

"I wasn't exactly the best kid in the world," he said.

But things were about to change. While attending Molalla High, he began working at McDonald's in Canby. After getting his GED, he started working at Woodcraft Industries where he's worked his way up into a supervisory position.

When he started, a man named Mark Borski took him in hand and became his mentor.

"He taught me leadership and helped me get confidence," Schroeder said.

Through Borski he began to move up the chain, married and had three children and began his favorite hobby, which is giving back to the community. This appears to be another full-time job for Schroeder. Through the Lighthouse Church, where he is in charge of the youth program, he feels he is able to motivate people and to make them and others feel good.

"I'm the kind of person that when people say I can't do something, it makes me prove that I can: as long as I set my mind to it, I do," he said,

"I think because we can give back to the community, it has allowed us (the restaurant) to grow at a fast rate. It's our passion to help and give back," Schroeder said. "There's a lot to do and we enjoy doing it."

Right now he and the restaurant's staff and volunteers are working on a program to pick up garbage, to do yard work for people that don't have the tools or the time and help veterans by doing more things to help, with the proceeds going to a nonprofit local veteran's agency.

"This is something we've been working on to do a couple times a year," he says.

"We don't need piles of money," he said. "We prefer making enough to pay our bills and buy what we need. This enables us to give back more to others."

He chose Canby for his first restaurant because he'd spent so much time here as a teen and says he loves the city.

The restaurant's top seller is tacos, on one day this year they sold 1,311 of the tasty treats. Chapala's menu offers 12-tacos with sides of beans and rice and churros.

On Taco Tuesday, Chapala offers $1 tacos. One not-so-secret ingredient that he and his mom insist on is Angus beef for any item requiring beef.

"We focus on the basic Mexican items, he says, tacos, nachos, tortas [Mexican sandwiches], burritos, quesadillas and even platos—plates with meat and beans, rice, tortillas and a drink. It's fast, fresh food," he said.

Almost every item is made in-house daily, even the horchata, a Mexican and Central American drink that Chapala makes from scratch every day.

However, the tortillas are the only item they don't make. These are brought in daily from Woodburn.

Another item that gets a lot of interest is family nachos, which costs $29. This is three pounds of Mexican heaven and serves even a large family, containing a full pound of meat. There's also a regular sized nachos for two people that only costs $7.

All the salsa is homemade and there are three varieties made with bases of tomatillo and chipotle. Mild is called Make Me Laugh, because it has the flavor but very little heat. Make Me Sweat is the medium variety that has more heat, but won't burn your insides. The final flavor is titled Make Me Cry and it's hot, hot, hot!

"We originally thought we would open a restaurant every two years, but now with this one's success we're going to try a couple more," he said, making the Canby store the headquarters. Especially during the school months, when students from nearby Canby High emerge for lunch.

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