Valdosta Daily Times

January 26, 2014

Focus On


Stuart Taylor
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — It would be an understatement to say that Fernando Pena’s family is in the restaurant business.

An uncle runs several restaurants in Alabama, while another uncle runs a small chain called Old Mexico. One of his mom’s sisters, Sandra, has opened multiple Mexican restaurants across Georgia, selling some, but keeping two running in McDonough, while another aunt runs El Carrisal in Hahira and Lakeland.

His parents, Guadalupe and Fernando Pena Sr., actually got their start in the restaurant business working together for Sandra at a restaurant in Forsyth. After getting out of school for the day, Pena would head straight to the restaurant where his mom worked.

After years spent gaining experience, Pena’s mom decided to open her place in Nashville, Puerta del Sol. A couple of years after that, in the middle of the housing crash, his dad closed his house-painting business in North Carolina and moved down to Georgia, opening the first Coyoacan in Quitman.

As Pena got older, he slowly started doing more and more around the restaurant, becoming a jack-of-all-trades.

He was a server primarily, but learned to do every job. If a cook, bartender or busboy didn’t show up or called in sick, he’d take over for them.

Eventually he got into the logistics of running the place, keeping stock in inventory, balancing the books, overseeing employees.

“It was right after high school,” said Pena. “It became a full-time job.”

Over the years, Coyoacan built a solid reputation in Quitman, along with a loyal customer base. But they’ve always kept it in the back of their minds that one day, it would be time to open a second one.

“Ever since we opened the one in Quitman, we’ve said we wanted to open one in Valdosta.”

They kept an eye on Valdosta, looking for just the right place to open. There were a few times when they thought they had it, only to see the deal fall through due to various circumstances.

Last summer, they found the perfect location on St. Augustine Road, and after four months of prep work, Coyoacan opened its doors this past fall.

After working in restaurants for eight years, Pena is running the new Coyoacan.

“I like to talk to anybody and everybody who will listen. If you give me the opportunity, I’m going to give you everything I have. I’ve landed on a good spot for me.”

Coyoacan comes from the Nahuatl language, an Aztec dialect, and translates to “the place of the coyote.”

It’s also the name of a borough of Mexico City, famous for its open markets and its artists, who line the sidewalks, some of them selling paintings and sculptures and others creating art on the sidewalks then selling it when it’s completed.

Guadalupe, Pena’s mom, is an artist, a painter and a designer, and her great love of the Mexican borough — the borough where famed Mexican artist Frida Kahlo was born and lived — led her to use the name for the restaurant.

She also designed the new Coyoacan, the clay reds and muted, earthy greens, the outside seating, even the painting on the wall that greets you as you walk in the door.

In the future, Pena hopes to expand the current location, or possibly open a second, but he’s leaving that to the future.

Coyoacan, 515 N. St. Augustine Road, is open Monday through Saturday, for lunch from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and for dinner from 5-10 p.m.; on Sundays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.