Opened in 2010, Gran Sabor Latino is a family-owned restaurant in Lancaster, PA, specializing in authentic Dominican, Puerto Rican, and Cuban cuisine.
Gran Sabor Latino offers a dine in lunch and dinner buffet that includes authentic Spanish home cooking from time-honored recipes. Takeout is also available. Food is prepared fresh daily and the menu includes weekly specials as well as establish favorites from beans and rice to pork, chicken, and steak dishes, all slow-cooked to bring out their amazing flavor.
Where It All Began
When Ely Ruiz arrived in the United States with his family in 1996 at the age of 14, he faced an uncertain future. Growing up in a small town in the Dominican Republic was much different than the city of Lancaster he landed in.
“Not a lot of people in Lancaster spoke Spanish back then. In school, I struggled to speak and read a new language,” says Ely.
Eventually, Ely managed to learn enough English to get by, but school continued to be a struggle.
“At 17, I decided to leave school and start working,” Ely says. “I wanted to start earning money.”
Ely took a job with a local poultry farm. A few years later he began working in construction. But Ely knew that the way to get ahead was owning his own business, so he saved as much money as he could.
In 2010 he and his sister Ruth Ruiz heard about a local Spanish restaurant that was for sale. The restaurant owner was also selling a small corner store. Both opportunities appealed to Ely.
The restaurant was housed in a converted garage, with only 1,200 square feet of space and 2 booths for diners. The property had no heat or air conditioning, but still attracted local patrons who would stand in line to experience the flavors of the authentic Spanish cuisine.
“In the end, we chose to invest in the restaurant instead of the store. We saw the place had a good following and I knew we could take it further.”
Ely, his sister Ruth, and brother-in-law Carmelo Herrera became partners, buying the restaurant and changing the name to Gran Sabor Latino. Ely served as owner and manager, while his sister Ruth handled cooking and frying. Carmelo also cooked for a short time, but eventually returned to his regular job.
Just 6 weeks after opening, Ely hired his first employee, Arida Batista, a talented cook who still works at the restaurant today. With the new cook in place, Ely began expanding the menu with many of his own recipes from his native Dominican Republic.
Soon diners began flocking to Gran Sabor Latino in droves, solely by word of mouth. But, despite his early success, Ely knew he was quickly outgrowing his small location. Employees and customers alike had to deal with cold temperatures every winter, with the only heat coming from the kitchen stove. Summers were unbearably hot without proper insulation or air conditioning.
Expanding the Possibilities
“I was amazed at how many people stood in line every day. I was so grateful for their support. I wanted to expand the restaurant and make it a place our customers truly deserved.”
Despite the difficulties, Ely and his family were grateful for the support they received from the Lancaster community.
In 2013, Ely began working with the city of Lancaster to gain approval for an expanded restaurant space. It took two years for his plans to gain approval. The large scale construction project began in earnest in 2015 and was slated to take 3 months. The project ended up taking 6 months to complete, keeping the restaurant closed for much longer than expected.
But the remodel was worth the wait. The old location was completely demolished, making way for a new 1,900 square foot, 2-story location complete with heat, air conditioning, insulation, and updated equipment. The dining area was expanded to include space for up to 24 diners.
The newly remodeled Gran Sabor Latino opened in October of 2015 to a celebrating crowd. Since then, Gran Sabor Latino has become a popular destination for authentic Latin American cuisine and now supports 10+ cooks, servers, and delivery personnel.
When asked about the success of Gran Sabor Latino, Ely is quick to point out that treating customers right is so important.
“We create the feeling of home here. Our food is the same food you would find in any home in the Dominican Republic or Puerto Rico. Everything is fresh. We start early every morning, while it’s still dark outside. We love our customers and go the extra mile to make them happy.”
While Ely is thrilled with the success of Gran Sabor Latino so far, he has big plans for the future, including opening new restaurant locations!
“I love seeing the people in line, knowing that I am serving food with my own flavors, my own recipes. I am grateful that our food makes people happy.”