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Inside Bulloch Business with DeWayne Grice - Avel Leon fulfills American Dream in Boro
Grice-H-DeWayne Web
DeWayne Grice

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• Construction is moving along on The Hamptons, 351 Rucker Lane, near 111 South a $35 million student housing complex behind The Mad Potter on U.S. Highway 301 South. It is a joint venture between IMS Development LLC and Capital Growth Buchalter Inc. The architect is Pucciano & English from Atlanta. The Hamptons will consist of 237 units with 668 beds. It will be a mix of cottages, manor homes and three-story garden-style apartments. There will be two-, three-, four- and five-bedroom cottage and manor homes along with one- and two-bedroom flats; 10,000-square-foot clubhouse that will feature a massive pool with tanning deck, cutting-edge fitness center/cardio studio, resident cafe, computer labs, resident study rooms, game/media lounge, tanning beds, steam rooms and more. Pre-leasing has begun with move-in ready for the fall 2015 semester
• Probate Judge Lee Deloach was re-elected by the Ag South Farm Credit board to serve a two-year term as a director of the Association. In addition to serving a Bulloch County's Probate Judge he is also a timber farmer and landlord. He currently serves on the Association's Risk Management Committee.
• In celebration of American Diabetes Month, Georgia Chrysler Dodge Jeep in Statesboro will donate $25 for every car sold in November to fund diabetes research, advocacy and education.
• Farmers Market Vendor of the Week: Sugar Magnolia Bakery


        Recently, my pastor Scott Moore spoke to us on the blessings of wealth. In that sermon, he explained that if you have a car, you're inside the top 10 percent of the world's wealthiest people and if you have Internet at home you're inside the top 3 percent.
        With a teenager in my home, it is difficult to imagine a world without the Internet, much less two cars. As we enter the season of Thanksgiving, we are reminded of the extreme poverty in our community and the world.
        Avel Leon, managing partner and owner of the highly successful El Sombrero restaurants in Statesboro, understands all too well what my pastor was talking about. Avel was able to flee his native Mexico to the United States when he was 14. He was one of the lucky ones, arriving in the U.S. legally.
        "There were people in my hometown that worked 10 hours per day, every day of their life and never owned a car, let alone had the opportunity to get a real education" Leon said. "I came to the U.S. in hopes of getting an education, while working to support myself and my family back in Mexico. I really thought I would come and work a few years and then return home. Never in a million years did I think my life would be like it is today. Thanks to so many people who have believed in me and supported me, I have had the opportunity to live the American dream. I have been tremendously blessed to build a great business in this community. A community that is now home to me and my family."
        After graduating from high school, he was able to get a job as a cook in a restaurant in Gainesville, Ga. He met his current business partner at the restaurant, who helped him relocate to Statesboro and open his first El Sombrero on Fair Road in 1989. This was the first Mexican restaurant in Statesboro.
        El Sombrero translates in English to "The Hat," which is what most of us call the restaurant. With hard work, great customer service and good food quality at a good value, Leon's restaurant became a hit in a location that had seen restaurants struggle.
        In 1994, Avel purchased the entire shopping center where the original El Sombrero is located. In 1993, Publix came to town and opened behind the Enmark on Northside Drive East. Soon after, Leon opened his second location which is referred to as the "little hat." The smaller and quainter Mexican restaurant quickly developed its own following. And while Publix is long gone, however the "little hat" continues to thrive.
        In 2008, Leon and his partner decided to build the pinnacle restaurant in their Statesboro chain on Buckhead Avenue. The location is known as the "Palace."
        "We hired an architect from Mexico to design this location of El Sombrero to be as authentic as possible," he said.
        Dabbs Williams of Statesboro was selected as the builder and the end result exceeded everyone's expectations.
        "The year we completed the Palace, it was named the number two restaurant designed and built in Georgia," Leon said.
        In 2011, along with his wife Ana, they purchased the Robbin's Nest on Northside Drive West. The Robbin's Nest is long known as an event rental facility that accommodates groups, weddings and receptions, dinner parties, sweet 16 parties and more.
        In October, Leon branched out of Bulloch County, Leon opened El Mariachi Mexican restaurant on South Lewis Street in Metter. Since El Sombrero has such a loyal following from all over the region, including Metter, you may wonder why Leon did not name it like his chain. Well, the three El Sombrero's continue to be owned by Leon and his partner. El Mariachi is fully owned by Leon.
        Leon became a US citizen an 1993 and his wife Ana became one in 1995. Their three children were born in Statesboro. His oldest son is continuing his education at SCAD in Savannah.
        "I owe this community so much," he said. "Every day I work hard to make this community a little better by giving back in every way possible. In addition, I have worked to create an opportunity for growth for my employees and hopefully helped give them the opportunity to realize the American dream as I have."
        He said 10 of his former employees now own their own businesses.
        Avel Leon has proven that no matter where you come from, if you work hard and focus on your talent and ability, anything is possible.

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