Aug. 26 2009 12:00 AM

Ramon’s returns to the delight of Tex-Mex fans


"That’s mom picking cherries on the right. There’s the picture of [my parents] in their very first restaurant, it’s Gus’s now; and there they’re making tamales at the tamale machine. [And there’s] a picture of my mom too. Doesn’t she have beautiful legs? And that’s my dad, working on the farm. We’ve got to get more pictures in here!"

Looking at the photos Margarita Rieger describes, it’s easy to see that even though the scenery, and life, has changed drastically, the new Ramon’s restaurant is still about family.

"My brother Ramon put in all the electrical wiring here, and my brother Jose helped paint the inside," she said. "I’ve had family, like my sisters, come in here, jump in the kitchen and help me. It’s still a family business."

The restaurant, which opened in January, has seen a steady increase in costumers since its new start. Many of them were patrons of the restaurant’s previous incarnations on Washington and East Grand River avenues.

For store owner Rieger (ne Fuentes), the new location on Saginaw Street is a slow return
from the renowned Lansing restaurant her parents owned. But for Rieger
and her husband, Steven, the return of her family-oriented Tex-Mex
restaurant is a dream come true. "I daydreamed about when I would get
my own restaurant," she said. "I think I’m a dreamer. I mean, how else
do you get what you want than to have dreams?”

Out at 806 1/2 Saginaw
St., Lansing, the primarily take-out restaurant, which shares a
building with Pope’s House of Style, is a sight for sore eyes for
former patrons who remember the original, pure Tex-Mex flavor of her
parents’ cooking.

The small, white sign out on the parkway
that reads "Ramon’s. We’re back," points to the rich and often painful
history of the restaurant and the family behind it.

"When my parents’
restaurant went down, we went all over looking for Tex-Mex food,”
Rieger said. “We went to Mexico, Texas ... even Pennsylvania. Any place
we went to travel, but nothing ever compared," she said.

Her parents’
restaurant, a Tex-Mex staple in Lansing since the early 1970s, closed
its doors in 2002, after Rieger’s father’s health started
deteriorating. He died that year, and her mother passed away shortly

Since her parents’ restaurant closed, Rieger, 57, has been cooking privately in her spare time, mostly for husband Steven. "Margaret
loves to cook," Steven Rieger said. "It’s not only her hobby, but it’s
also her job. I shouldn’t say this, but I think she’s the best cook in
the family. That’s going to cause trouble!"

The new restaurant shares
striking similarities to the old one. Although much, much smaller, a
giant mural painted by Domingo Gamboa (just like in her parents’
restaurant) decorates the outside wall. The menu, too, is very similar
to the old Ramon’s.

Texas burritos and chili burritos ($8.75)
(the first chili burritos in Lansing, Rieger claims) all share the rich
flavors of tradition. The spinach, mushroom and cottage cheese
vegetarian enchiladas ($8.75) are also mouth-watering and distinctly

Although Rieger isn’t used to cooking in a smaller kitchen, the limited space means every item is prepared daily and promptly.

hopes to one day offer a buffet menu, a staple at the old Ramon’s. She
also wants to open a bigger restaurant, where her brothers and sisters
can once again share in the family tradition.

For now, she
said she enjoys the smiles on customer’s faces and the recognition her
family and parents receive each time a former patron returns, excited
to have the restaurant back.

"That’s why my parents would be proud of
me, because a lot of people have the tendency to say they want this or
this, or they want that, but they don’t do anything about it,” she
said. “I’m doing something. If you don’t take a risk, then you’ll never
know. That’s what mom said."

Ramon’s, 806 1/2 Saginaw St.,
Lansing. Customers are urged to call in orders ahead of time for
pickup. (517) 371- 6787. 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. Tuesday – Thursday, 11 am. –
9 p.m. Friday & Saturday.