Don Quijote a Century Later

Written by ryan. Posted in Uncategorized

Published on August 31, 2010 with No Comments

By Carl Kurek

The area that makes up Valparaiso was established in 1836, but it was not until a year later that the city would officially be named Valparaiso, which means “Valley of Paradise” in Spanish. Although it was named after Valparaíso, Chile because David Porter – the man Porter County is named after – battled near the region during the War of 1812, the city still has at least one special, long-standing connection to the Spanish heritage.

Don Quijote Restaurant and Imports is celebrating the fact that it has been anchored in its original location in Valparaiso for 25 years. Carlos Rivera was born in Pontevedra, Spain and inherited his fascination for cooking from his father who worked as a chef on an ocean liner.

“If I woke up one day and someone told me ‘You can’t cook anymore,’ it would be a dramatic way to end my life,” Rivera said. “I can’t even start to think about not doing what I’m doing.”

In 1975, Rivera opened his first restaurant in Madrid, Spain and three years later, after meeting his American wife in Spain, Rivera came to the U.S. He spent several months looking for the perfect location to begin building his business before he discovered the building located at 119 E. Lincolnway in Valparaiso.

“When I first came here, this place was basically just four walls. I had potential to do whatever I wanted,” Rivera said.

There are a few restaurants that Rivera recalled being in the area when he opened Don Quijote, such as the China House and the Court Restaurant, and together he says they all are part of what makes Valparaiso one of the most fantastic downtowns around.

Shortly after the Spanish eating establishment opened, Joel Henderson, a member of the two-man guitar group AcoustiCats began playing on the stage inside Don Quijote. Henderson and fellow guitarist Mike Cannon provide finger-style guitar dinner music at Rivera’s restaurant as well as weddings and parties.
“They’ve been playing here so long I should give the restaurant to them and stay in the kitchen,” Rivera said.

Rivera would later find his assistant chef and business partner in Elena Jambrina, also a native of Spain who came to the U.S. in 1980 and met Rivera through a mutual friend.

“It’s amazing how long we’ve been here and all of the businesses we’ve seen come and go,” Jambrina said.

Rivera and Jambrina both agreed that after 25 years of being in business, they do not only have customers, they have friends. Anyone enjoying something to eat at Don Quijote would realize how true this is when they see Rivera and Jambrina frequently come out of the kitchen to essentially go table to table and chat with their friends who joined them for an authentic Spanish meal.

“People who used to come in as kids with their parents are now grown up and come with kids of their own. They grew up here with us,” Jambrina said.

Rivera admitted that there are people who come to Don Quijote expecting Mexican food, but he makes it clear that the only thing the two have in common is the Spanish language. He says that Spanish food, in the way it is prepared, is closer to Greek or even Italian cuisine than it is to Mexican.

“I’d say 99 percent of the time, they become regulars,” Rivera said. “I have customers from all over the county who come here to eat every chance they get.”

In celebration of their 25th year in Valparaiso, Rivera and Jambrina planned a series of special events at Don Quijote throughout the year. They have already had a wine tasting and ribbon cutting event and plan to close out the year with a Spanish Flamenco dance show on Oct. 17 and a big New Years Eve Extravaganza.

“We have an end of the year celebration every year, but this one will be special,” Rivera said.

For both Rivera and Jambrina, cooking is more than a skill or a career, it is a passion. Rivera said that he cooks everywhere he goes, whether it be at his home or the home of family members or friends. He summed up his future with a comparison to an old saying.

“I think it’s like how they say ‘old fishermen never die, they just fade away,’” Rivera said. “I will never stop cooking, I will just fade away.”

For more information about Don Quijote, call 219-462-7976 or visit

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