By Carson Gerber
---- — Hungry, but not sure what kind of food you’re hungry for? Gabriel Ugalde said he has a solution: Come to his new restaurant, Gabriel’s Pancake House and Restaurant.
There you’ll find a five-page menu with just about any kind of dish you can imagine. There are burgers, steak and ribs. There are salads, stackers and wraps. Or you could go for some pasta, stir fry or fajitas.
And, of course, there’re pancakes. Lots of pancakes.
It’s a big menu for a new restaurant that’s just over two weeks old, but Ugalde said it’s what makes his family diner at 101 N. Broadway special.
“This is a full service restaurant with a full menu,” he said. “You can order a burger in the morning if you want, or eggs in the afternoon. We have a little something for everybody. That’s what makes us different and unique.”
The menu may set the eatery apart from other places in Peru. Ugalde said his restaurant offers by far the most food choices of any place in town, but, he said, his food philosophy isn’t anything special. It’s just common sense.
“We want to make this a place to go for families and friends that has a good atmosphere, good quality food and hometown hospitality,” he said. “When people come in, I want people to feel like they’re our guest.”
Gabriel’s Pancake House opened Nov. 18. The previous restaurant at the location, Day & Night, closed in June after operating for around a year.
Ugalde founded the first Gabriel’s Pancake House five years ago in Marion. When the old Day & Night building became available, he said he decided to take the leap and open a second branch of the restaurant in Peru.
But it wasn’t too big of a leap. Ugalde said he got his start in the restaurant business in Peru 15 years ago, when he managed the old Lincoln Square restaurant. He lived in town for seven years before starting another chain of restaurants called Ugalde’s with his five brothers.
“Peru has been good to me, and I owe this town a lot,” Ugalde said. “There’s a good feeling here, and I have a lot of good memories of when I lived in Peru.”
In fact, Ugalde said, he’s been managing and running restaurants since he was 22 years old, but he’s been part of the restaurant scene way longer than that.
Ugalde's first job was washing dishes at the Lincoln Square restaurant in Kokomo. From there, he worked his way up the chain until the owner asked him if he wanted to become a business partner.
“My boss saw something in me and decided to give me the chance to be a partner,” Ugalde said. “I didn’t realize I had it in me to do this kind of work until someone told me, ‘Hey, you’re good at this. Keep it up, and someday you’ll do well.’ I’ve been in business ever since then … But I’ve done it all. I cleaned toilets, bused tables, waited tables, cooked. Everything.”
Ugalde may be running restaurants now, but he hasn’t given up cooking. He’s the head chef at Gabriel’s Pancake House in Peru, and he created a good chunk of the dishes on the menu.
There are the more common items like steak, fish and biscuits and gravy, but the menu also has a good dose of off-the-beaten-path dishes people won’t find at other establishments.
For something sweet, go for the banana-split pancakes, layered with sliced bananas and topped with strawberry, Hershey’s chocolate and whipped cream. Other sweet choices include the peanut butter and jelly pancakes or caramel-apple stuffed pancakes.
For a unique sandwich, there’s the San Francisco burger topped with jalapeno ketchup or the Santa Fe grilled chicken breast.
Assistant Manager Michelle Timmons said her favorite dishes include the Idaho omelet and the Monte Cristo sandwich loaded with ham, turkey and Swiss cheese on French toast bread.
But if you want to sample more than just one thing, Ugalde said try out the Sunday buffet open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
“It’s huge, it’s fresh and it’s something different,” he said. “We have everything from fried chicken to cube steak to fajitas to fish. You name it. And it’s all homemade.”
Homemade is the key word for most of the food at Gabriel’s Pancake House. Ugalde said his days start at 3 a.m., when he and another cook hit the kitchen to whip up fresh biscuits and gravy, simmer up the day’s soup, pound out hamburger patties and concoct special sauces.
When the restaurant opens at 6 a.m. every morning, he said all the food is fresh and ready for the early-bird crowd.
“It’s just good quality food at a good price,” Ugalde said. “We put our heart and our soul into every plate we serve, because our main concern is customer satisfaction.”
So far, he said, the food and service have created a winning combination. And by creating around 35 new jobs for cooks, servers, dishwashers and managers, Ugalde said it’s been a win for the community, too.
Timmons said business has been steady since opening, and sometimes it’s been downright crazy.
The first weekend they were open, she said, the staff could hardly keep up with the crowds that packed into the diner, which seats 150 customers.
After that, Uglade said he decided to change business hours to 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. and cut out dinner.
“We didn’t want to overwhelm ourselves,” he said. “We wanted to take it slowly, so right now we’re just open for breakfast and lunch. Down the road, when we feel more comfortable, we’ll be open later.”
But, he said, it’s a good problem to have too much business and the restaurant stays busy all day.
“I’ve been happy with the turnout,” Ugalde said. “It’s been way better than I expected.”
Timmons said she thinks there’s been so much interest in the eatery because people in town were ready for a place like Gabriel’s Pancake House.
“Peru needed a place where people could sit down and dine and be waited on and treated nice,” she said. “It’s a place you can come to and relax with the family.”
In the end, Ugalde said he hopes his restaurant becomes a special part of the community and the surrounding area.
“That’ my goal – to be the place to go, to be a destination for families,” he said.
Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, or at email@example.com.