A better-than-expected lunch crowd at Las Ranitas Monday told owners Luis and Heidi Ortiz all they needed to know.

Perham people like Mexican food and better than that, they like the kind served at Las Ranitas (Spanish for “The Little Frog”).

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Perham’s Ryan Rustad, a fan of Mexican food, was enthusiastic about his first trip to the new restaurant on Second Ave. SE.

“We’re just excited that Perham has another Mexican restaurant,” Rustad said.

Rustad’s dinner companion, Ashley Renollet, who works with him at the United Community Bank a couple blocks away, commented how colorful the surroundings were. Her sentiments were echoed by Rustad.

“It’s a great atmosphere here,” Rustad said. “It’s nice to have a lot of variety too.”

Across the restaurant, two salesmen chatted among themselves as they awaited their food orders. Asked for their impressions, WDAY’s Greg Arends took a sip of ice water and said: “so far, so good.”

The food they ordered certainly passed inspection with Joel Koetke of Leighton Broadcasting.

“Very good food,” Koetke said between mouthfuls of a beef dish.

Luis and Heidi own two other restaurants, one in Thief River Falls and the other in Becker. Perham was a natural for their third restaurant because it is almost exactly halfway between the two. The couple lives in Monticello and spends most of their time at the Becker location. Their children, Isabella and Alexander, a pair of frisky youngsters, made the trip to Perham with them for the opening.

“We take them everywhere,” Heidi smiled.

In the kitchen, several of the restaurant staff worked on food preparation. Bowls of the colorful vegetables, cheeses and meats that go into a Mexican dish were directly across an aisle from a hot grill where the cook, Jesus Lavine, mixed them into orders.

Out in the festive dining area Manager Jorge Galvan, who has worked with Luis for several years, was busy waiting on customers.

“Everything is just good,” said Galvan, who has worked with Ortiz since he was 17.

“Jorge thought it would be slow, but we had a decent lunch (crowd) for the first day,” Heidi commented.

After announcing the purchase in July a tentative opening of mid-August was planned, but a couple snags pushed the opening, which was announced only three days before the restaurant opened, back to September. The delay was not too much of a surprise to the two restaurateurs.

“It always takes longer than you think,” Heidi said. “There were some things that had to be done, but nothing major.”

After the former owner closed his Mexican restaurant in May, Luis, with 12 years of experience in the restaurant business, recognized that opportunity had knocked on his door. Formerly the main cook in Thief River Falls, Luis became acquainted with many Perham guests who traveled up to TRF for tournaments. They liked his food and encouraged him to open a place in Perham. He had considered Perham as a good spot for a restaurant even before the place on Second Ave. became available.

Looking around the third restaurant he has opened in the last four years, Luis nodded and said: “I think we have everything we need."