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Ithaca College Alum Expands His Collegetown Mexican Restaurant

Written by Lauren Barber


Instantly upon walking into Mexeo Restaurant in Collegetown, customers are greeted by a burst of vibrantly colored walls and the aroma of fresh Mexican food.

Chances are, regardless of what time customers stop in, they’ll find owner Sebastian Villa behind the counter. Villa graduated from Ithaca College with an art history degree in 2007. Because he had no set plan, Villa started working in a restaurant. Having worked in restaurants since he was 16, the business was familiar to him. He had a knack for food service, he says, so Villa decided to open his own restaurant in 2009. Mexeo is known for its uniquely Texan-inspired Mexican food, modeled off of food from Villa’s hometown.

But Mexeo was not always Mexeo. Originally, it was a Vietnamese restaurant. A few months ago, it moved down the street to its current location, so the business could expand into a larger venue. Villa says he likes to change things up and try different menus to see what fits.

“I like having different restaurant concepts with different themes,” he says. “I’m trying to build a group of restaurants. For me, it’s just having an umbrella group of restaurants and exploring different facets.”

Villa prides himself on using only natural, local ingredients. The staff prepares food fresh every day, and Mexeo is the first restaurant in the city of Ithaca to use exclusively local meat.

“It’s something I’m really passionate about,” Villa says. “The local food systems and the access we have to it in the Finger Lakes is unprecedented in other places. We’re very lucky to have it, so I try to utilize it as much as I can.”

Mexeo is located on Dryden Road, in the heart of Cornell’s Collegetown. As a result, most of the customers are local college students walking around the area.

“There aren’t really any local foods restaurants geared toward college students,” Villa says. “Most of it is fine dining, but this is some place that people come to every day for quick food to go. It’s a market that’s not really being served.”

While an art history major might not seem like good preparation for running a restaurant, Villa is able to bring out his artistic side in the vibrant design of his restaurant. The white walls are covered with bright yellow, red, green, and blue geometric shapes. The diverse menu is written on a chalkboard above and around the counter.

“It’s something that’s really important to me,” Villa says. “Being a visual artist, it’s a way I can express myself as well. The design is very important to me.”

Villa says his time at IC taught him vital skills for his future. During his four years, Villa was the president of two clubs on campus – IC Triple Threat and IC Players. As president, he learned valuable business skills like managing budgets.

“It’s good to at least experience that and learn from it,” he says.

Villa says he is unclear about the specifics of the future, but he is excited about the potential.

“For me, I’m just in this experimental phase and I’m just testing what works and what doesn’t work,” he says. “It’s all up in the air, I don’t like to force it. It just happens.”



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