Future of the Range is ‘Mucho Si’

The front of Mucho Si in Nashwauk, as seen on my morning commute.

The front of the restaurant Mucho Si in Nashwauk, as seen on my morning commute. (Aaron J. Brown)

I’ll be honest. I chuckled when I heard that a vacant restaurant property on Central Avenue in downtown Nashwauk was going to become a Mexican joint called “Mucho Si.”

For one thing, the site has been several restaurants over the years, each succumbing to economic doom. My cousin ran one of them. I knew the guy who tried it before that. The old sign from the last effort still looks over this western Mesabi Iron Range town. All of them were classic American diners.

But when Mucho Si opened in March, I started hearing from people who tried it. It was really good food. Service was fast. Portions were huge. These are the magic words of Iron Range dining.

So we tried it ourselves.

Mucho Si is not huge — maybe eight booths and eight tables. We arrived before 5, so the early birds were just finishing dinner and there were a few open tables for our brood. Within minutes of seating, the place was completely full. When we left, people had lined up into the street.

With just the owners and two employees, the chips and salsa kept coming, the drinks arrived, and accurate orders from more than 50 menu options were served promptly. I ate a $12 burrito the size of a strong man’s forearm. Dinner entrees ranged in price from $9-$15 for basic items, up to $20 for steaks and fancier stuff. The lunch specials looked like a good deal.

A lot of restaurants handle busy nights in survival mode. You cut them slack because they’re trying hard. But this place was on top of everything. The owner came out with up to six plates balanced from a hot pad on his neck to the tips of his fingers, using his shoulder and outstretched arm to tote out the meals. As he spun his way around the crowded restaurant I never saw a plate move, much less fall.

It’s invigorating to watch people who are good at their jobs and joyful in their work.

All of this happened in a town situated between the idled Keewatin Taconite plant and the stalled construction site of Essar Steel Minnesota that we drove by coming into Nashwauk from the northwest. We saw people we knew from the wooded township where we live, Nashwauk regulars and people who seemed to drive in from all over the Iron Range.

Why a Mexican restaurant? Because the entrepreneurs in question — Sandro and JoDee Lopez — know Mexican food back and forth, make it well and have a business plan. Sandro is from Mexico, JoDee an Iron Range native. The region didn’t pick a Mexican restaurant. The entrepreneurs picked the Iron Range.

From an April 16, 2016 story by Crystal Dey in the Hibbing Daily Tribune:

“When we got here, we saw kids on their bikes and running around,” JoDee said. “Back in Montana we wouldn’t see that because of the oil boom… Being able to be back in a family environment is important to us.”

When visiting her grandmother as a child, JoDee recalled seeing a lot of older people on the Iron Range, but she doesn’t see it that way today.

“When we came here I was so pleasantly surprised at how many kids are here and how many young families have stayed,” JoDee said. “Alondra has more kids in her class here than she did in Montana.”

Some of Sandro’s family members own restaurants in the United States and others remain in Mexico, where he says they can always visit, but he wouldn’t want to move permanently.

“My country is beautiful… But we’re making Nashwauk our home,” Sandro said.

Prior to purchasing the present Mucho Si building, Sandro observed the vehicle and foot traffic downtown Nashwauk for an entire day and determined the former UpTown Diner building on the corner of Third Street and Central Avenue would be an ideal location. The couple toured the building and decided on Nashwauk.

“When I walked inside I thought, ‘this is what we’re dreaming,’” Sandro said.

It’s often easy to overlook the traits of your community when you’ve lived there all your life. I often talk about how the Iron Range overlooks weaknesses it could easily fix, but the Range also overlooks its strengths — the things that quietly keep us here despite the lousy economy

No, a Mexican restaurant won’t save the Range. Neither will a clothing store or a maker space or high speed internet. Not on their own.

But taken together we see hope. This is the creative and entrepreneurial spirit that will build a new generation of community on Minnesota’s Iron Range. We don’t control what happens with mining. We do, however, retain economic power in our choices. Where we eat. Where we shop. Where we spend our time.

That will always be true. No one can take that away, not global markets or distant bosses.

Will the Iron Range have a better future if we remember to build our communities rather than our resentments? Mucho Si.


  1. Independant says

    Great story about entrepreneurs coming from outside the area and working hard at growing a family owned business. New blood coming to the Range is a great thing. I hope Essar can get started back up and they get so busy they need to expand and add more employees!

  2. Garrett Ebling says

    I picture this column ending with a dropped mic. Mucho sì!

  3. Fantastic news! Definitely checking that out on my next trip to Nashwauk.

  4. Gray Camp says

    Best of luck for success to Mucho Si. When I think of places I’ve lived in the past, some of the fond memories of those places are related to the eating and drinking establishments in those areas. Local businesses can improve the lives of the people in the community and make the community a more desirable and vibrant place to live (and hopefully sell at least a small percentage to out-of-towners, bringing needed money into the region from the outside).

    Aaron – your last paragraph was the point I was trying to make to you 3 weeks ago regarding the bridge, and you were arguing that you needed to hold onto your resentments (so that eventually we’d learn from our mistakes?). Is that still the case, or did you have a change of heart?

    • Brother, I have sailed seas of generational resentment in Iron Range politics and journalism my entire adult life. That’s why stories like this are such joys for me. There is a difference between allowing resentment to shape your choices and pointing out a major planning folly to the tune of a quarter billion dollars. We must learn from the latter. What would you have me say? In 20 years, we will know what we do not know today. Perhaps by then we will stop repeating mistakes.

  5. Lisa Anderson says

    Dear Aaron, Always enjoy reading your posts. I’m hoping for the best for everyone in Northern Minnesota. Next time I’m in Nashwauk, I’ll be sure to visit Mucho Si and say hello to the Lopez family! Warmly, Lisa

  6. Heading over to Mucho Si with my gal pals tonight for Mexican dining. I’ve heard so many, many good things about this restaurant. Thanks for the great article. The ending of your article is a good thing to keep in mind with Cool and Creative and Recharging the Range….which, is..”We don’t control what happens with mining. We do, however, retain economic power in our choices. Where we eat. Where we shop. Where we spend our time.” Very well said! The only other caveat I would like to say is this. IF our towns are failing, we hold the key. Every time, every trip, every dollar WE take and spend in the Twin Cities is that much less for our growth, our communities, our businesses which need our dollars to survive. IF we close up, we can only thank ourselves for not supporting our home towns.

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