By Bob Highfill
STOCKTON – Juan Alonso wants to see how far he can push himself.
Juan Alonso’s dream restaurant, Sugar Mediterranean Bistro, opened in November 2018 in the Trinity Parkway Shopping Center in north Stockton. The restaurant (formerly Strings Italian Restaurant) features a new bar area for a casual experience as well as a separate dining area for private receptions. He also offers off-site catering services and soon the restaurant will serve weekend breakfast/brunch.
The menu is an eclectic blend of Greek classics, such as gyros, moussaka and dolmathes, Middle East dishes like hummus and kabobs, salads and pastas. You can find steaks, seafood and appetizers too. Their Flaming cheese is a popular choice for the appetizers.
“All of the pastas we make are from scratch,” Alonso said. “All the chicken, all the vegetables, all of the seafood is fresh.
Sugar Mediterranean Bistro is open for lunch and dinner and offers two happy hours daily from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and from 8 p.m. to closing with 12 beers on tap and a full bar. Diners can enjoy the spacious indoor dining room or the newly renovated patio, where live music and entertainment will be offered weekly.
Alonso, 35, worked for corporate restaurants before he established Sugar with co-owners, Alex Yescas and Roberto “Sugar” Santillan, who also is the chef. Though Latino, they believed the Stockton and Modesto areas had enough Mexican restaurants, so they opted to offer a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant that features fresh, healthy selections in a family-friendly atmosphere. Their clientele comes from the nearby Spanos Park neighborhoods, other parts of Stockton and Lodi.
“This is more like a family restaurant,” Alonso said. “We have a kids’ menu, so kids can come in and draw. We’re going to make them welcome. We want to cater to the new generation.”
Alonso has worked since he was 6 years old and came with his family to California from Chapala, Jalisco, when he was 12 years old. His father, who passed away in 2010, worked for car washes. The family lived in East Palo Alto and Modesto before Alonso came to Stockton. He worked in several restaurants as a dishwasher, server, cook, Assistant Kitchen Manager and expeditor. His brothers also work in the restaurant business.
“We love food and making it,” Alonso said. It’s like art. You have to love what you do or there’s no point of being here.”
As a new business owner, Alonso wants to be involved in the community and give back as much as he can. “Meeting new people and making new friends in the community is important. “We have been involved with the San Joaquin County Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Stockton Chamber of Commerce and Central Valley Asian-American Chamber of Commerce who have helped with our grand openings and ribbon cuttings,” he said. “We try to attend as many local events and support other businesses and non-profits for the betterment of the community.”
Alonso and his partners have designs on opening a second location in the future in Stockton or Modesto that would serve build-your-own pitas. Alonso said “before we do that, we need to put our heart and soul into Sugar Mediterranean Bistro first.
Their ambition is to work as hard as they can. “This is just the beginning and we are on the right path,” said Alonso. We want to grow and working 6-7 days a week is paying off. We always push ourselves to work harder with a goal of making this more like a corporate restaurant”.
Alonso and his wife of 10 years, Hevila have three children, Juan Jr, 9 years, Jaquelin, 5 years and Sophia 4 years old. “They are that age where they ask mommy “why is daddy always working?” That breaks my heart. I try to enjoy every moment I can with them. Not very many people know that I sold my house, my cars and most of everything I had in order to start my business”. These are sacrifices that most know as business owners having to go through at one time when starting a business”.
“I would like to give special thanks to Andrew Ysiano, Publisher/Founder of Latino Times. I met Ysiano at our first networking mixer and ribbon cutting we had at the restaurant. He was pleasantly surprised that the owners of Sugar Mediterranean Bistro were Latinos. After hearing my story and struggles, he took me under his wing and helped connect me with the community. Thanks to him and Latino Times, I have met and made many new friends. Thank you Stockton for welcoming us to the community and to all our customers for your support”.