This past weekend, Gary and Toni Chapman of Peabody, saw a long-awaited dream come true when they hosted a grand opening at their new downtown restaurant, Mendoza’s. Gary had a liver transplant in 2008, and through his long recovery he and Toni focused on a plan to open their own restaurant.
“We talked about it a lot,” Toni said. “It was kind of like therapy. Talking about it and planning it helped us get beyond Gary’s illness and look to the future. After his recovery, it seemed more do-able, but we still weren’t ready to take the plunge.”
The Chapmans settled on the restaurant business because both come from families that love to cook. Sharing that love with others seemed like a natural step for the couple.
“Even our children cook. I started them each out on grilled cheese sandwiches when they were about 10 and told them to experiment and add whatever ingredients they wished,” Toni said. “Our grandson, Rocko, turned 10 this year and he has developed his own twists to the grilled cheese legend. And 4-year-old Addy loves helping Gary bake.”
Things finally came together in the spring when Toni and Gary decided they had talked enough and it was time to do something.
“Last May, I was working at Hillsboro Hospital and feeling like I was at loose ends,” Toni said. “I was just itching to go ahead and take the plunge, just get started.”
She confided in a friend who had recently started a business and got such a healthy dose of encouragement that she approached Peabody Economic Development Director Shane Marler for assistance with business development.
“I had a business plan in my head, and after I worked through that, we looked at the Baker buildings with Shane. We picked out a building we thought would work, he helped guide us through the financing steps, and we got started,” she said.
They began the building renovation in the first part of July and did most of the construction work themselves.
“Our son, Justin, was living in Portland, Ore.,” she said. “But as soon as we told him about the restaurant and the work involved in getting the building ready, he was on his way home. He always loved to cook and is good at it, but I saw a whole new side of him after he moved back and we started the remodeling. I had no idea how good he was as a construction worker.”
The Chapmans had the utility upgrades done by professionals, but tackled the rest on their own. After a busy opening day, Toni still was serving a steady flow of customers on Monday.
“This is the part we love,” Toni said. “Getting the meals ready and doing the cooking is the easy part. The hard part — fixing up the building — is behind us and we can finally get on with what we want to do.”
The standard fare will be authentic Mexican food, but Mendoza’s will serve Italian food on Wednesdays. Daughter Sheena, who is also a cook, will prepare lasagna and Gary will make the homemade bread. Other ethnic dishes will include Cajun, Chinese, and whatever else strikes their fancy.
“And don’t be surprised if you come in and find good old southern foods on the menu,” she said. “Fried okra, catfish, or chicken fried steak. We plan to experiment and try to give our customers what they want.”
They also will market some of their own products like the salsa and eventually Gary’s fresh homemade bread.
Lindsey Marshall at the Coneburg Inn has joined forces with Toni to provide catering for community events.
“We worked together to provide the food for an appreciation/get acquainted session at Peabody Care Center in October and we will be serving the meal at Peabody Community Foundation donor appreciation dinner in mid-November,” WHO? said.
“I think it is important for Peabody businesses to work together for the good of the community and the business climate,” she added. “To me this shows that a little cooperation can go a long way.”
Toni and Gary say they have enjoyed the support and encouragement people have offered during the renovation of the building and development of their dream.
“We have lived here 23 years. It is now our hometown,” Toni said. “Our children both grew up here, and they’ve always loved to come back. Our grandchildren enjoy it and love to visit. Peabody is a safe, fun, and welcoming place to be.
“We could not imagine doing this anywhere else.”