“Flavor.” That’s what Amelis Repollet tells me when I ask her to describe her restaurant in one word.
Repollet owns and operates Hayuya Restaurant, a Puerto Rican restaurant on Canton Road in Ellet. The cement building is quaint and, at first glance, not particularly eye-catching. But the warmth and decadent aroma of authentic Puerto Rican food that envelops you as soon as you step into the restaurant immediately gets your attention.
Inside, customers are greeted with a large Puerto Rican flag and a mural full of vibrant color, bearing homage to Repollet’s home there.
“I wanted them [the customers] to feel at home,” Repollet says of the flag and mural.
Amelis Repollet was born and raised in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, the phonetic namesake of the restaurant, before moving to Akron six years ago to live with her dad. “I met my dad when I was 14 years old. He moved here [Akron] while I was still in school, so I told my mom that when I graduated high school I wanted to move with him so I could go to college.”
However, rather than fulfilling her original intent of studying psychology at the University of Akron, Repollet sought work instead. “I found a full-time job and started making my own living. I forgot all about school.”
Despite her urge to start her own restaurant, a passion of hers she tells me she’s always had, Repollet worked full-time at a window factory for six years before meeting her boyfriend one year ago.
“He knew I wanted a restaurant. His cousin used to own the Mexican restaurant that was in this building, so when she decided to close, we put money together to see if we could get it. And we got it.”
Hayuya Restaurant boasts an inexpensive selection of savory dishes including Repollet’s personal favorite — mofongo (smashed plantains with garlic, olive oil, butter and pork cracklings) served with fried pork. For first-time diners, Repollet recommends Hayuya’s roasted pork shoulder or Caribbean chicken breast.
“People always come here and ask, “Is your food spicy?” It’s not spicy! It’s just a lot of flavor,” Repollet laughs. “I don’t even like spicy food.” Repollet assures me that Hayuya’s homemade hot sauce is available for those who do prefer a little bit of heat.
Repollet envisions a lifespan of a few more years of the Hayuya Restaurant as we know it before updating it with some hot new wheels.
“I always wanted a food truck because you can travel everywhere. There’s a lot of festivals around here,” she says.
Watch out, Akron!
Grace Dubravetz is a senior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School and co-editor-in-chief of The Leprechaun Gold, STVM’s student newspaper.