ENGLEWOOD — “Over the years, there’s been a lot of different places here,” said Jason Sloan, celebrating wife Sheena’s birthday over lunch at Zarate’s Family Restaurant. “I’d say this is the best it’s ever been.”

“We’re ‘east enders’ and used to have to go into town to find a good restaurant,” Sheena added. “Now we don’t have to!”

Will and Jeannine Carlson of Rotonda, original owners of Englewood’s W.R. Carlson Roofing Specialists, have seen a lot of restaurants come and go in their 40 years in the area.

They agree that Mexican-born Jesus Zarates really knows what he’s doing as new owner at Zarate’s, formerly Blossom’s Family Restaurant, Bay Pointe Grill, and several other incarnations.

But Zarates wasn’t so sure at first.

“I never in my life thought I’d ever own my own restaurant,” he said. “At first, I wasn’t even looking, but my partner, Serafin Estrada, talked me into stopping in and checking the place out. And we bought it!

“I didn’t think it was going to take off so fast. It isn’t even season yet.”

After a first job washing dishes for Jimmy Psicharis at Giorgio’s in Port Charlotte, he cheffed for nearly 30 years at Port Charlotte’s Elena’s, later renamed Peter’s Family Restaurant, all while running a successful landscaping business. This is his and partner Estrada’s first independent venture.

By their third week, Zarate’s already had regular customers. One Sunday, nearly 200 people slammed the 80-seat eatery at breakfast time.

When asked his secret, Zarates said simply, “I enjoy cooking. I’ve been cooking for so many years, I can’t change that.”

“When I was getting ready to open here,” he went on, “I didn’t have any waitresses. I thought: What am I going to do? I can’t open without waitresses. One day when I was cleaning, Peggy Day stopped in and I told her, ‘I’m hiring you right now!’”

He now has a staff of five or six, all earning rave reviews for their friendly service.

Day said, “It’s a great place to work. We’re truly treated right, and we have fun.”

Always a formula for success.

“Our menu has a little bit of everything—Italian, American, Greek, Mexican, with lunch and dinner specials — quality food, with good prices,” said Zarates. “It might change as my waitresses ask people what they like. You have to do that.

“They eat way differently here than in Port Charlotte. Here, people watch what they eat. Over there, you can’t keep up with the bacon. They don’t even want pancakes here. They want green-tomatillo salsa, so I might add that or a Mexican night.”

Zarate’s ($-$$), 941-208-2855 and 941-208-5305, 3502 N. Access Road, Englewood, next to Domino’s Pizza, is open Monday to Saturday 6:30 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sunday to 1:30 p.m. Draft and bottled beer and wine are available.

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