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It started with a dream. The dream of a married couple that wanted something better for their children. They wanted to build a lasting empire that could provide continued support for their family while living out their passion. For nine years Maracas Latin restaurant has strived for excellence to see this dream fulfilled. Owned by Leonardo and Margarita Lopez, the business has prospered and seen the community of Kissimmee grow. Both are from the Dominican Republic.

The restaurant opened on January 14, 2004 in a quiet plaza in Kissimmee, Fla. Leonardo Lopez was working as a graphic designer for the O’Donnell Corporation when the restaurant was at its inception. He said when the family made the move from New Jersey to Florida in 2002; he spent eight months looking for work. When he finally landed the O’Donnell gig, he worked there for about a year and soon quit to help out at the business. The restaurant took about 9 months to build.

Two weeks prior to the restaurant’s opening, Leonardo posted signs around the city with just the word, “Maracas” printed on it, in its signature orange and blue type.

He said this created a “buzz” in the community and people were wondering what the sign was about. Overall he said the first day of the restaurant’s opening had a large impact on his, as well as his family’s life.

“I cut all the meats,” Leonardo said. “I cut the chicken, beef, pork. You name it.”

As of now, Leonardo does all of the shopping and book keeping for the restaurant, while Margarita cooks up her specialty dishes and runs a tight ship in the kitchen.

She specializes in managing the staff and making sure customers receive a quality experience and a good meal.

“I realized that cooking was something that I was really good at when I was young and I wanted to keep doing it,” she said. “I love it.” She is now teaching her son, Anthony, all the recipes and kitchen secrets that has given Maracas an edge over the competition, like the recipe for their well-known, smooth garlic sauce, Mojito.

“People put it on everything!” Margarita said. “I’ve never seen anything like it. It took a couple years, but I was able to perfect the recipe.”

As the years went by and word-of-mouth spread like wildfire, the business took off quickly, Leonardo said. Two years ago the business expanded its building by renting out their neighboring space, that was once a church.

“We expanded the business because demand was higher than we anticipated. People had to wait too long for tables,” he said. The restaurant expanded its kitchen and opened up the dining area, which now seats 65 people.

“The community responded in a very positive way to the restaurant,” he said. “We have responded to the community by expanding.”

He also said that the business has already put two of his kids through college. The couple plans to stay in the area and keep working toward their goals.