By Tommy Clarkson from the January 2010 Edition
JUANITO – JOHN COREY
John Corey is a big man . . . with an even bigger heart! Many are the stories of him anonymously doing kind deeds for others – be they ex-pats or locals, individuals he has known for years or first time visitors. Clearly, he is a gringo of the sort that the rest of us should strive to emulate.
Born in Mexico City in 1950, where his father was a senior executive with American Airlines, he speaks Spanish like the proverbial native. However, early in his youth his parents were
divorced and he returned to the US, going to school in Florida and then college in California. But early on during the latter academic experience, while on his summer vacation, he sought to reconnect with his mother who lived in nearby El Colomos, so down he drove. (That, mostly pre-paved roads, trip is, in itself, an entire full length story!)
So positive, impactful and life altering was that experience in 1970, that when he came back the following year he never returned to the States. Shortly thereafter he met Esperanza, the beautiful young, small grocery store running “big sister” of 15 siblings. Visits for cold cervazas and vittles turned to romance and – after finally convincing the family whole of his honorable intentions and solid character – they were married in 1972.
Effectively utilizing his bi-lingual skills, he worked in condo management until 1976 when he took the first step of his, ever since, continued trek in the restaurant business. With his good friend and partner Les
Armstrong, they opened Ahamburguesia – or as he smilingly describes it, “a hamburger joint.”
Their restaurant, offering the limited fare of hamburgers, hot dogs and fried chicken, had a corner on the market as the only purveyors of such items in the entire area. But more than that was a special ambiance. With no TV stations and only one radio station in the area, to the delight of diners, music resonated through their restaurant via 400 long playing albums.
Three decades plus ago, with an overall population of around 30,000, only two lane roads and no stop lights, Manzanillo was a different town then. He recalls how, “We had one highway patrolman, one customs agent, and one immigration officer.” One might say that Manzanillo was, in those days, a much more simple and basic, one burro town!
Between 1973 and 1977 the three Corey children were born: Enrique (who was killed in a car wreck in 1993 – see
accompanying story), Carlos and Susan. In 1980 – with the Coreys living in an apartment on the second floor – Juanito’s opened its doors where it now stands today as the second longest lasting restaurant in the area. Those who are familiar with the area know that many directions given start with, “From Juanitos go . . .”.
Operating a very family oriented establishment, when seating their guests, John, Esperanza, Susan, Carlos, and his wife Jisela, orchestrate the co-mingling of ex-pats, locals and vacationers. In doing so they encourage cross table chatting and the creation of new acquaintances. And, in fact, from such, many long term friendships have spawned.
Beyond this, John, Esperanza and their extended family take pride in offering a variety of local and American style dishes at easily affordable prices. In addition to these great meals, having some of the best coffee in town and
making their own sausage, the phone and computer services available have proven invaluable to many a visitor. It’s the kind of restaurant in which one feels comfortable and earmarks it as “one of our favorite places”.
Be it his cuisine, kind counsel, or care for community, this gracious, gentle and soft-spoken man is truly a Manzanillo treasure!
Tommy Clarkson is a bit of a renaissance man. He’s lived and worked in locales as disparate as the 1.2 square mile island of Kwajalein to war-torn Iraq, from aboard he and Patty’s boat berthed out of Sea Bright, NJ to Thailand, Germany, Hawaii and Viet Nam; He’s taught classes and courses on creative writing and mass communications from the elementary grades to graduate level; He’s spoken to a wide array of meetings, conferences and assemblages on topics as varied as Buddhism, strategic marketing and tropical plants; In the latter category he and Patty’s recently book, “The Civilized Jungle” – written for the lay gardener – has been heralded as “the best tropical plant book in the last ten years”; And, according to Trip Advisor, their spectacular tropical creation - Ola Brisa Gardens – is the “Number One Tour destination in Manzanillo”.