Fueled by his passion for cooking, Ivan Santana-Barnes evolved from a student of his mother’s cooking to a manager of a Greek restaurant in Vancouver, to the launch of his own restaurant. Ivan is originally from Mexico, a country known for its rich tapestry of cuisine. He and his husband Christopher lived in Vancouver for decades before moving to London, Ontario four years ago to open the first 100% organic Mexican food truck in Canada. The pair spent a few years on the road serving authentic, 100% organic Mexican cuisine to countless Canadians. This culminated in opening Ivanopoblano in November of 2019.
The most amazing part? The restaurant is entirely run and operated by the duo. They have no additional cooks or waitstaff, Ivan Santana Diaz simply cooks and his husband fulfills all serving and guest experience duties. Unfortunately, COVID has changed the nature of how they operate, and now Ivan’s husband can no longer interact with customers in the same way he once did.
“Instead of bringing food out in person we just call customer’s names, and they come inside from the patio and pick up food from a table. The kitchen is far away, and my husband wears a mask to take orders.” Ivan explains. “It’s hard when you’re passionate about cooking for people, and you can’t do it the same way anymore. With takeout orders and minimal interaction with customers, there isn’t the same sense of community.”
When the pandemic first began, Ivanopoblano reverted to take-out only for 3 months. Ivan explains that this was, fortunately, an easy transition for them, as they used to be a food truck and were used to that style of food. They decided to build a patio to abide by social distancing rules, and have seen that most of their revenue now comes from that addition. Purchasing all the plexiglass and moving the tables around inside sounded like an expensive nightmare to them, and decided a patio was a more economic, safer option. The city of London was super helpful and supportive through this process, giving them the patio permits right away.
The quickly approaching Canadian fall and winter are a serious worry for Ivanopoblano. For anyone that’s been to Ontario in January, patio seating doesn’t sound too tempting. Adjusting the inside of the restaurant to be safe and welcoming will be a major task for Ivan and his husband, and whether or not people will even feel comfortable sitting inside is another question in itself.
“We live day by day. There’s no sense in making too many decisions about the future because everything is changing so quickly. We just have to be positive.” Ivan states.
The pair had to cancel their trip to Mexico this March to see their families after 3 ½ years away. The hectic reality of opening a restaurant prevented them from visiting in past years, and now due to quarantining requirements, the trip isn’t possible for the foreseeable future.
Ivan states that visiting Mexico is the first thing they’re going to do when things return to “normal.”
For more information on Ivanopoblano’s or to order some authentic 100% organic Mexican food, please visit www.ivanopoblano.com.