Jose Ochoa chats with customers Bridget and Lyle Zimmerman at Noe Jose Cafe Family Restaurant that opened two weeks ago in downtown Oak Harbor. Jose and his brother, Noe, decided to open the cafe after years of working at other local restaurants. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

No way Jose! Brothers open eatery in downtown Oak Harbor

New restaurant featuring Mom’s traditional cooking

Brothers Noe and Jose Ochoa had no trouble deciding a name for their new restaurant.

They went with the fun pun people make when finding out they’re indeed named Noe — pronounced ‘no-way’ — and Jose, calling it Noe Jose Cafe Family Restaurant.

“My brother and I worked at other restaurants for years, from bringing water to busing to cooking to dish washing,” says Noe, 22. “It’s time for us to spread out on our own.”

In the past 15 years, at least five restaurants served as the anchor inside Oak Harbor’s Harborside Village on Pioneer Way.

Noe Jose Cafe is one of four businesses that opened in the historic Oak Harbor downtown area just this month, said Melissa Riker, executive director of the Oak Harbor Main Street Association.

The others are Whimsies, a small gift and art store, Chris’ Bakery and Yondersea Oak Harbor, a barber shop.

“There’s definitely more activity,” she said, enjoying a breakfast at Noe Jose Cafe that’s a few feet from her office. “And I’m very happy this is here now.”

The Ochoa brothers, backed by family, express confidence they can follow the trajectory of two successful eateries, Island Cafe and China City, both of which started out inside Harborside and now have larger, multiple locations.

Hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner and it serves breakfast all day. The menu is a hefty nine pages.

Both brothers worked at Island Cafe and based their menu on its American-style foods.

A separate sheet on the menu, labeled “Authentic Mexican Entrees,” means Mom is in the restaurant kitchen.

Their mother, Silvia Acuna, makes meals passed down from the kitchens of her Mexican family. Pozole, quesadilla michoacan, chicken taquitos and thick homemade flour tortillas are just a few of her flavorful favorites.

“A lot of people are ordering tortillas on the side so my Mom is in the kitchen going crazy making them,” Jose said.

Constantly cooking at the restaurant is not so different from life at home, commented Acuna, the mother of six sons.

“Either way, I’m always working like this,”Acuna said in Spanish as Jose translated. “I’m glad their dream is coming true of opening a restaurant. They’re working for themselves and that’s very good.”

At Oak Harbor High School, Jose, 19, participated in the school’s award-winning culinary arts program and started working at Island Cafe at age 15.

Family means many things at Noe Jose Cafe Family Restaurant: Family-style food offerings, family owned and operated and family recipes.

The brothers say their parents helped get the business going financially.

“Last year, they told us, ‘Enough talking about getting your own restaurant. Are you wanting this or not?’” Noe said. “So here we are.”

Their full-time cook, Fabrel Flores, who tends to breakfasts and lunches, is married to their cousin. Other cousins and long-time friends comprise the eight-person staff.

Wednesday afternoon, a table of eight friends from Coupeville and Oak Harbor gave the restaurant a try.

“We’ve been waiting forever,” Linda Haslaund said of the anticipation of another restaurant firing up in the space where so many have passed through.

The group then named off the many eating places over nearly 20 years inside Harborside Village: China City, Island Cafe, Cameron’s, and two pizza ventures called Good Times and Hot Rock Pizza.

The space has been vacant about 15 months.

Two customers, Bridget and Lyle Zimmerman of Oak Harbor, spoke about Noe and Jose while waiting for a shrimp Louie salad and bowl of pozole.

“We’ve seen them around various restaurants and it’s always been fun to talk with them and get to know them,” Bridget Zimmerman said.

Her husband, who admitted he couldn’t resist ordering pozole again after his first visit last week, observed that while some have failed in the space, two left because they needed more room to grow.

Kory Dyer, who has the Loakal Public House on nearby Bayshore Drive, also hopes for the best for the brothers’ venture.

“It’s great that they are here,” he said, dropping by Thursday to meet the Jose behind Noe Jose Cafe. “I don’t see it as competition. The more we can create a buzz downtown, the better. People will eat here one day, at my place the next and another place another day.”

Grand opening is set for 11:30 a.m. Friday, April 7.

Silvia Acuna, mother of restaurant owners, Noe and Jose Ochoa, prepares a bowl of pozole for a customer at Noe Jose Cafe. She cooks authentic Mexican dishes that have been passed down from generations in her family. Photo by Patricia Guthrie/Whidbey News-Times

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