Having spent most of their adult lives in the food service industry and raising kids, Justine Hernandez and her husband, Rudy, found themselves at a crossroad — literally. Enter The Cantina, their newly opened Mexican and American restaurant located at the former Crossroads Inn, Adamsdale Road in Schuylkill Haven.
Rudy, originally from Veracruz, and Justine, a Blue Mountain graduate, met 16 years ago working in a restaurant, and their love affair for cooking and each other began.
A few years ago, a friend told them the Second Mountain Gun Club was looking for someone to take over their kitchen, and the couple took the plunge.
“I didn’t even know what Second Mountain was,” Justine said, “but it was a great starting point for us.”
After only two weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic hit. The club was closed and they switched to doing only takeout. The menu consisted of standard bar food plus Mexican favorites.
A year or so later, Main Street Moonshine opened in Schuylkill Haven and needed a kitchen staff. Justine and Rodolfo jumped at the opportunity, working there for one year, gaining a following and perfecting their culinary partnership — all while raising four daughters ages 5 to 20, and Justine working as a registered nurse at nearby St. Luke’s/Geisinger Hospital.
When the Crossroads Inn closed due to the Christmas Day passing of its owner, Tom Rayburn, the Hernandezes knew it was time to venture out on their own. They purchased the restaurant in December, and after a few months of remodeling, they opened The Cantina on Feb. 11.
Adding some fresh paint and a few personal touches to the inn, which was built in 1904 as the Continental Hotel, the Hernandezes have made the restaurant a welcoming place to dine.
“The best compliment I heard was from a little 4-year-old girl,” Justine said. “She asked me, ‘Why did you turn your house into a restaurant?’ That’s the homey atmosphere we are looking for.”
Capitalizing on Rudy’s expertise and experience with authentic Mexican cuisine and adding a touch of Americana to the menu, The Cantina offers a diverse menu including authentic Mexican style tacos, burritos and enchiladas as well as shrimp scampi, burgers, fresh seafood and ribeye steaks. Guacamole, pico de gallo and homemade tortilla chips are prepared fresh daily. For the kids, the menu offers chicken tenders, grilled cheese and pasta.
“It’s so nice to have something other than pizza, Chinese and Italian in the area,” is a comment Justine hears daily.
From the minute it opened, The Cantina has been packed. Just before Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant’s liquor license was approved, giving patrons a chance to partake of a variety of specialty margaritas and Mexican beers.
All in the family
Running a restaurant is difficult, especially in these times. Food shortages are commonplace, help is hard to find, and government restrictions and requirements change frequently. But The Cantina is covering all the bases. Rudy travels daily to find fresh produce and supplies. Most of the staff at the restaurant are family members. Justine tends bar, and Rudy is head chef.
“Without my parents Randy and Cindy Sattizahn and my Aunt Penny and her daughter Jeralyn, we couldn’t do what we do,” Justine said.
The Cantina was recently voted Best Newly Opened Restaurant in Schuylkill County by readers of a local newspaper.
Reservations are highly suggested as The Cantina only seats 52. Phone number is 570-593-0100.
Hours at The Cantina are Tuesday through Thursday 4-8 pm. and Friday and Saturday’s from 11 a.m.-9 p.m. They are closed Sunday and Monday.