Plans are already being made for the former Portales Dairy Queen three weeks after it closed its doors. The owner of Roma's Italian Restaurant in Clovis, Mario Ajrula, plans to open Mario's Pizza and Pasta.
Ajrula said he wants the newest Portales business to be set up in more of a cafe style, geared towards Eastern New Mexico University students.
"What I'm thinking is these kids need a quiet, outdoor place to have a cappuccino and do their homework, so I am going to have an outdoor patio area where students can have a cup of cappuccino and use the Wi-Fi and do their homework," Ajrula said. "I've been a student myself and I know you've got to afford to have a lunch but make it easy on you. It's going to be more like a neighborhood pizza/pasta cafe."
Ajrula said he has been looking at open buildings in Portales for the last several weeks and the Dairy Queen building presented the perfect business opportunity. He said he hopes to open his Portales restaurant in six weeks at the latest.
"I am hoping soon, but we still have to clean up and remove some equipment," he said. "Let's say everything goes the way I want it too, it will be four to six weeks."
"It depends on how quickly he can get a contractor in to do what he's gotta do," said Roosevelt County Community Development Corporation Director Doug Redmond, who helped Ajrula obtain the building. "This location really doesn't need a lot of preparation done. It's really just preparing for the type of cooking he's going to be doing."
Ajrula, originally from Sicily, Italy, went to culinary school in Greece and came to Clovis from Dallas, Texas, where he ran another Italian restaurant with his cousin.
"That's my life, cooking and making a good pizza," he said. "I grew up making pizza. And I was a student myself, so I just wanted to bring something to students in Portales."
"I've been here for a year and it's been very successful," he added of his Clovis restaurant, saying people from both communities come to Roma's. "I think Clovis and Portales are good for me. I grew up in small towns, so I love small towns."
Chef Armando Martinez, right, describes the preparation of freshly cooked Italian dishes to waitress Briana Lovato, left, Wednesday at Roma's Italian Restaurant.
Ajrula said along with an outdoor patio and a coffee bar, which serves cappuccino from an Italian-made machine, the restaurant will serve homemade pizza from brick ovens with all fresh ingredients and have a drive-thru window.
"I'm going to set it up to where it's quick and fast, in and out, not even 30 minutes for anything," he said. "I don't know how late they (college students) stay out, but I will probably stay open late, until about 10 during the week and midnight on the weekends. It will depend on how much business I get."
Ajrula said in the one year he has been in Clovis, he has had numerous area residents ask him about opening another restaurant in Portales for the sake of bringing more variety to the small town.
"I am very excited to come there, too, and I have people coming into Roma's and thanking me for coming there," he said. "They are so grateful and excited and I am excited."
"We're excited about working with Mario and assisting him in any way we can to get him open," Redmond said. "I think Mario's very excited about coming to Portales and being a part of our community."