BY GARY GOLDBERG
When I talked to Manuel Esparza, manager of Vallarta’s Mexican Restaurant, most of what he wanted to talk about was his family and how much the entire family appreciates everything that Mannford has done for them. Little does he know how much Mannford appreciates everything that the Esparza family has done for our community. Manuel, who goes by Manny, came to Mannford with the rest of the family when their father Jose purchased the vacant building that now houses Vallarta’s. The Esparza family consists of Manny and three other brothers along with two sisters. They owned a restaurant in Glenpool called Family Esparza but the rent on the building became too high and the availability of the Mannford location was too attractive. The result was Vallarta’s opening in 2001. Jose managed the day to day operation until six years ago when he turned that position over to Manny. He, along with one brother and two sisters, runs this family business which is open seven days a week along highway 51. Another brother owns and operates a separate restaurant in Cleveland. Manny’s family doesn’t end with his restaurant family as he has a family of his own as well. He has three children, a boy 10 and two daughters aged 8 and 4. He’s been married for 11 years. Manny has seen many changes to Mannford in the 13 years the Esparza family has owned and operated Vallarta’s. While he supports all the new businesses that have come into the community he would like to see less emphasis put on bringing in new restaurants and more emphasis put on bringing in other businesses that would lead to more people moving into the community. He would like to see a golf course or a national motel chain like Holiday Inn build along the Lake. He feels a mini Target or other retail businesses would be helpful in encouraging more people to move here. He’s a member of the Chamber of Commerce and has seen how the closure of the Keystone Dam road has hurt his business. He believes Vallarta’s has suffered around a 15 percent loss of business over the past year and is thrilled that the road has now been reopened. But the closure of the road has also made him and the Esparza family that much more appreciative of the people of Mannford, as they have frequented the restaurant and kept it going. If not for the local residents, business would have suffered that much more. Manny mentioned that so many of their customers have been coming into the restaurant since they first opened back in 2001. These people have become another family for the Esparza’s, knowing their names, watching their children grow up, and sharing their lives. I saw that first hand while I was conducting this interview, customers came in who Manny knew by name. My wife and I love eating at Vallarta’s. The food is excellent, the selection is superb, the service is top notch and the prices are more than reasonable. So while the Esparza family wanted Mannford to know how much they appreciate the community support for the restaurant, they also need to know how much the community appreciates having such a great Mexican restaurant right here for all of us to enjoy. And enjoy we do. Stop in and enjoy a great meal. Just look for the man with the big smile. That will be Manny.