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Fresh Take

Red Habanero Specializes in Mouth-Watering Mexican Fare

Writer / Jon Shoulders
Photographer / Brian Brosmer

Red Habanero

Providing a reliable and encouraging employment environment for his sizable staff, as well as a menu of made-fresh Mexican cuisine for his patrons, is something Raul Perez, co-owner of Red Habanero restaurant, doesn’t take lightly.

Having opened his first Red Habanero location back in 2005 at 96th Street and Gray Road, and locations in Noblesville and Westfield since then, Perez says he’s never stopped valuing each and every member of his team.

“Taking care of the employees is very important to me, and I feel good when they tell me things like they are able to move into a bigger house or are buying their first car,” says Perez, who co-owns the Red Habanero locations with his brother Adrian. “That makes me happy, that we can keep giving them a good place to work and feel good about it. Also, customers becoming regulars and sometimes asking my name and getting to know me a little bit – that keeps me doing what I’m doing.”

Perez moved to central Indiana in 1998 and says he began in the restaurant business working as a dishwasher, then a prep cook, at a few local Mexican and steakhouse restaurants.

“I did almost everything you could do in restaurants,” he says.

Red HabaneroEventually, he began formulating the idea to open his own establishment and started researching locations and requirements for doing just that. His idea, from which he has never deviated since opening 16 years ago, was to offer nothing but fresh food made in-house, and he felt confident that customers would come if he adhered to such a plan.

“My dream was to give work to my family, and more families here,” Perez says. “That was my biggest inspiration. I noticed there were a lot of families that weren’t getting jobs, and that was my dream. I wanted to buy my own car and things like that. I noticed that I had the skills to cook and talk to the people in restaurants, and that helps a lot.”

Soon after researching what it would take to operate his own eatery, Perez began learning the business side of the restaurant industry rather quickly.

“In those early years it was difficult, especially because we did not realize all the expenses we had to think about like employees, taxes, utilities, rent and everything,” he says. “Learning all that really fast though, it made us stronger, and we survived.”

Seven years after moving to the Indy area, Perez had opened the flagship Red Habanero spot, and the foundation for what would lead to multiple locations had begun.

Perez decided to open additional locations for a very simple reason – he wanted to expand the opportunities for current and future staff members to thrive, and at the same time provide a larger customer base with fresh Mexican fare. His Noblesville location sits on Clover Road off of State Road 37, and he and his team opened their Westfield location in 2015 on Carey Road.

Perez eventually relocated his original location to a spot on East 96th Street near Interstate 69, and he says the staff members at all three locations continue to enjoy success.

“In 1998 I was living in the Carmel area right next to 151st Street, by Carmel and by Westfield,” Perez says. “I was feeling at that time, 20 years ago, that it was going to be a good place for businesses to grow there. Then 20 years later, when there was an opportunity to have my own business over there, I took the opportunity without even thinking about it. Having the Westfield and the Noblesville restaurants has been something I’ve enjoyed.”

Each of the menu selections is made fresh every day, and Perez says nothing is frozen or from pre-made kits. As a nod to this approach, he and Adrian added the phrase “Fresh Mexican Grill” as an unofficial subheading for the restaurant name more than 13 years ago.

This fresh-made approach is all the more impressive once one takes a look at the sizable menu, which features salads, dips, nachos, signature burritos, quesadillas, fajitas, combo platters, vegetarian options, desserts and more. Patrons can also choose from several salsa flavors. The lunch menu is served on weekdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Perez’s own favorite Red Habanero dish is the Pineapple Fajita, which comes with chicken and steak and is served right in a pineapple shell, fresh from the grill.

Red Habanero

The drink options are also plentiful, including an expansive specialty margarita and cocktail selection.

“My brother and I have always created something new,” Perez says of the menu. “We always are working on the menu and recipes. Every six months to a year, we put out new menu items and see which ones work and are popular with customers.”

Perez adds that he and his staff have weathered the pandemic thanks to the support of the communities surrounding each of his locations.

“It was hard to survive last year, but we’ve had people come in and keep buying food even in those hard times,” he says. “The great customers we have are what keep us alive.”

For more info including a menu, online ordering, location details and more, visit redhabanerogrill.com.

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