When Paco Greenwell was in high school and his mother was working, he had to cook himself if he wanted a home-cooked meal after school.
“I would take ramen noodles and put different things with it,” he recalls. “I was always coming up with new, exciting things.”
As a child, Greenwell remembers eating in unique restaurants frequently.
“My parents were what we call ‘foodies’ now, and as a kid, I had the opportunity to eat things most kids don’t,” he said.
Today, Greenwell is still continuing his cooking creations and giving others the opportunity to try new fare through his downtown Decatur restaurant, Paco’s Sol Bistro, located at 237 N. Main.
Greenwell grew up in Decatur and attended MacArthur High School. When he was 18, he got into the restaurant business and eventually began working for Texas Roadhouse. The stint took him up to Green Bay, Wis., where he helped to open one of the chains from the ground up.
“Then I got a bug to go out on my own,” he said. “It was a fantastic company to work for, but it had run its course, and then I figured if I was going to do something different, I wanted to do it myself.”
Greenwell and his wife Ryan decided that they’d like to open a new restaurant business in their hometown of Decatur. The couple moved back in January 2010 and opened the doors of Paco’s Sol Bistro on March 15.
“I thought there would be a market here for what we wanted to do,” he said.
Greenwell describes the experience at Sol Bistro as a casual, urban dining environment that borders between upscale and casual. The 5,600-square-foot space is divided into four areas, complete with two bars and an upstairs mezzanine level that is used for both dining and private events.
“I wanted the place to be, and it’s become, a place where you can have a really nice dinner, and also be a place where you can come in after work or in your jeans to have a burger and not be out of place,” Greenwell said. “There are couches and comfy chairs when you first walk in that are great for relaxing and having fun with your friends.”
Paco’s Sol Bistro has also played host to its share of fundraiser events, birthday parties, rehearsal dinner and other events in its first year. For 2011, the restaurant even has a couple of wedding receptions on the schedule.
The fare of the bistro is fusion. “I don’t like to corner myself on what kind of food it actually is,” Greenwell said, but notes that the menu contains a lot of Latin foods with Asian and European influences. Greenwell admits that when he began cooking, Latin food became his forte.
Everything made at the restaurant is created from scratch, Greenwell said, including sauces, salsa and guacamole, dressings and burger patties. In its first year, the bistro has become known for its burgers and steaks, particularly the filet.
“Chicken meatloaf is also one of my popular items, topped with a tomato chipotle; it’s different than anything anyone else offers,” Greenwell said. “We also do a lot of our lobster spaghetti and shrimp pasta.”
“It’s a very eclectic menu,” he added. “There is nothing exotic in there; it’s just a combination of how we put them together than makes it different. We are taking the classic American dishes and putting them with different foods from around the world.”
Greenwell’s cooking started as a hobby, and he laughs that he “was driving my wife crazy” because he’d constantly insist on having get-togethers and cookouts so that he could try new recipes.
“From that I really grew the base of the menu. It started around a couple of items and I carried those flavor profiles throughout the menu,” he said. “If you look at our menu, you’ll find a lot of the same ingredients but used in different variations so we keep things fresh. I usually don’t bring an ingredient into the kitchen if we don’t use it in at least two dishes.”
One of the big changes that recently came out of the bistro was a new menu, with separate menus for lunch and dinner. Previously the menu had been the same for both meals.
“It’s 80-percent the same as it was, but we’re always looking every day for new and better ways to do things,” he said. “When you go into business, you change and adapt while still being centered on what your business plan and focus is. In the downtown area, we do a pretty good lunch business during the week.”
Sol Bistro has also taken advantage of its large space to begin offering live music to the downtown Decatur crowd. Bands play at the restaurant just about every weekend, Greenwell said.
“We’re getting into a good rotation. Most places are not big enough, but we thought it’d be a good opportunity for us, and there are a lot of great local bands in central Illinois,” he said. “This time last year I was wondering if people would even come in and try it. And now we can barely book the bands fast enough.”
Greenwell’s greatest enjoyment from opening Sol Bistro is the ability to be creative.
“If you have a new idea for a menu item, or you want to book a new band or move furniture around, (I love) having that ability to be creative throughout entire process,” he said. “There is nothing more gratifying than someone telling you they love a dish you created from your own mind.”
Greenwell has only one wish when it comes to his restaurant: to fill the place with satisfied customers.
“It’s a vague goal, but I want to be known and well-respected in community for our food and entertainment, and to be a really good restaurant,” he said. “My goal is to have this place full every night. We want to continue to build our reputation and make sure more people know about us.”
“Every day I talk to someone new who comes in and says ‘wow I love this place; I can’t believe I haven’t been here before’,” he said. “We are building this business one guest at a time and not try to throw out deals and specials because I want people to be taken care of here. Dining is not just about food – obviously people go out to eat – but it’s got to be a whole experience: the food, atmosphere, décor, the way the servers treat you.”
Paco’s Sol Bistro
237 N. Main St., Decatur IL
Monday thru Thursday, 11a .m. to 8:30 p.m.
Friday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Saturday 4 to 9:30 p.m.