“We always have fun and I love the area,” says Carlos Ayala, general manager at Salsa’s Mexican Grill, “We have the movie theater and a lot of other restaurants and it looks nice. You come to Salsa’s and if you want to go watch a movie, you can, and afterwards you can just walk around. I think that’s what makes it fun to be in City Center. If you go to another place, you just get out of your car, go to the restaurant, and then go home.”
Ayala has been with Salsa’s for almost 10 years, since it first opened in April 2008. “In City Center, there are lots of new projects,” he explains. “So that’s why we came to City Center. We were told it would be a nice area, and here we are.”
Before deciding to open Salsa’s, Ayala and his partners worked for Plaza Azteca. They wanted to create something a little different in the area, and when the time was right, they had the opportunity to do just that in the City Center location.
Because of the atmosphere in City Center, Ayala sees Salsa’s a bit more upscale than other area Mexican restaurants. Although the restaurant is known for several of its dishes, Salsa’s is also known for the Latin dance party it hosts Friday and Saturday nights. The party starts at 10:00 p.m. and lasts until closing—an event that is packed every weekend.
When asked about the decision to start this tradition, Ayala says, “Because of the name. We started doing this from the beginning and wanted to play off it since Salsa is a kind of music as well as the food.”
The City Center-sponsored events offer a huge difference in the success of the business as well. Of course, Cinco de Mayo is always crowded, but the city’s Hollydazzle brings its fair share of people as well. “It’s kept growing,” says Ayala. “Especially since other businesses have opened and we get those clients. Every day, we have new clientele, including for business lunches.”
Originally from Mexico City, Ayala worked in Atlanta for a while before coming north to Newport News. “When I heard about Virginia Beach, I thought it would be really fun, and I wanted to be around the water, so when my boss offered to move me to Virginia, I did it,” he says.
Ayala has a nine-year-old son and when he’s not working, he loves spending time with his family. With everything there is to do in the summertime, the family enjoys the close proximity to amusement parks such as Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion. When winter comes, they retreat to indoor activities such as movies and bowling.
Ayala reflects how working at Salsa’s is like working with family, “Normally employees stay for a long time. They enjoy working at Salsa’s and stay for three, four, five years. You see the same faces when you come to a restaurant.” Salsa’s plans to continue growing, even considering opening another location.
“The two most important concerns for a restaurant are the employees and the food,” says Ayala. “If the food is good, but the employees are not, customers won’t want to come back. It’s the same thing if the food isn’t good. And of course, another important consideration is the area.”
About his employees, Ayala says, “You know them and they know you and it makes you feel comfortable. We don’t count customers as a number—we know them as a name—and it makes people feel welcome. Even if we don’t know your name, we know who you are, and what you want to eat.”
TO THE POINT
Salsa’s Mexican Grill
Address: 704 Mariners Row, Ste. 110, Newport News, VA 23606
Contact: Carlos Ayala, general manager