Rio Grill Interview with Ken Donkersloot, Restaurant Owner
One of the 10 best restaurants in Carmel, Rio Grill is Carmel dining that turns up the flavor with a southwestern flair, serving fresh local Californian eats while impressing food critics and foodies alike. Earning distinguished culinary awards for downtown Carmel restaurants, Rio Grill has been part of the local restaurants for 36 years. Welcome to creative American food at its best with a full bar, great wine and impeccable service.
Phone: (831) 625-5436
Tell us about yourself and your business.
My wife (Mona Calis) and I have been so excited to grow Coastal Roots Hospitality into a star member of the premier organization, Downtown Dining. For 30 years, Coastal Roots’ three restaurants (Rio Grill, Montrio Bistro, and Tarpy’s Roadhouse) have maintained their deep connection to the coast and its community. We are constantly inspired by the local flavors and strong sense of community of the Monterey Peninsula.
Our mission is to provide a memorable dining experience, exceptional service, and meaningful connections. We look forward to setting new benchmarks in hospitality with our soon-to-be-launched events and catering services.
What inspired you to open your restaurant at The Crossroads Carmel?
The Rio Grill’s founding members made that wise decision back in the early 1980s. I couldn’t be happier that they did! We are proud of all our restaurants, but most especially of the Rio Grill team. The excellent staff and leaders were the primary reason for our decision to become involved with Rio Grill.
How does your business connect to the Carmel community?
‘Giving Back’ or as we prefer to say, ‘Paying it Forward’, is very important to my wife and myself. We believe in the importance of community and in the obligation to give back as much as we can. We are happy to support community causes and encourage groups to contact us if they would like to be considered for our Giving Back activities.
Since June of 2020 when we took ownership of the restaurants, we are proud to say we have become involved in three initiatives:
1) Pick It Up – Pay it Forward – We donate 10% of all sales from carryout to local causes. Currently we are working with Monterey County Food Bank, have raised over $25k, and are on track to reach $50k by year’s end.
2) Working with Interim, Inc. we are pleased to offer our teams and support to help cook 350+ meals for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
3) Of course, we will be continuing with the Rio Resolution Run (a virtual run this year) and our charitable partner is CASA of Monterey County.
What do you love about Carmel?
For me, it is the incredible environment. We are blessed to live in a place that is so untouched and beautiful. For my wife, I know she will say the warm and welcoming community.
Do you work with any local vendors to create your dishes?
Yes, we do. the chefs at all three restaurants collaborate with, and continually search for, quality local vendors. You can often find our chefs at the local farmers markets purchasing the freshest ingredients. Almost all our vendors are local, and we try to use local seafood whenever possible.
How has COVID impacted Rio Grill?
We have seen significant loss of revenue. However, I would like to look at the positives. One major positive outcome of COVID has been the fabulous patio that we created at Rio Grill. Sincere thanks for the help and support from Crossroads in helping us produce an exceptional dining venue. Also, the customer support has been tremendous. Along with my Rio team, I am very appreciative of the kindness and support the community has shown the hospitality industry.
What are some changes you have made to ensure safe dining options?
There are so many! The list would require its own article! I will say that the safety of our guests has been our priority from the outset of the pandemic. From Day 1 we have implemented and closely followed the best recommendations and processes available. There have been no shortcuts. One of our most important efforts is ensuring that there is no interaction between tables or activities without sanitization. It is vital that our guests feel safe when they dine.
What’s the most popular take-out order?
House Smoked Half Chicken. This is a Rio classic and has been a fan favorite for over 30 years.
What is your personal favorite menu item?
I like the new fall addition of Venison Ossobuco.
Can you share a recipe for a comforting/relaxing night in?
GRILLED ZUCCHINI STUFFED WITH VEGETABLE RATATOUILLE AND CHIPOTLE CREMA
3 each Zucchini
1 each Yellow Corn
½ pound Cremini Mushrooms
1 each Poblano Pepper
1 each Red Bell Pepper
1 cup Black Beans (canned)
1 each Yellow Squash
6 cloves Garlic (minced)
1 cup Jack and Cheddar cheese
1 cup Sour Cream
1 each Lime
2 tsp Chipotle puree or Adobo Sauce
1 cup Olive Oil
Salt and Pepper
1-Preheat your grill to 400 degrees.
2-Cut the zucchini in half long ways, take the seeds out, rub with olive oil, salt and pepper.
3-Put the zucchini on the grill to roast for 5 minutes with the corn, poblano and red bell pepper to get the nice smoky flavor. Make sure you give nice grilled marks to the zucchini.
4-Cut the mushrooms (you can buy these cut, too) dice the yellow squash, remove the skin from the poblano and red bell peppers, take the seeds out and dice, slice the corn.
5-Mix all the vegetables with the black beans, garlic, and cheese. Salt and pepper to taste.
Stuff the zucchini with the mix.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and put the zucchinis in for 7 minutes or until the cheese is melted.
In a bowl mix sour cream, chipotle puree, squeeze ½ lime, salt and pepper. Whip until everything is mixed well and drizzle over the top of the zucchini when you are ready to serve.
Chef Eduardo loves this dish because it is a great accompaniment to grilled chicken, steak, or shrimp.
Any advice for people navigating this crazy time in our lives?
We need to look for the positives. Without a doubt, Covid has been difficult and terrible for many of us. At the same time, it has provided an opportunity to spend more time with our immediate families. It would be sad if we didn’t take this time to appreciate each other and build stronger bonds with our children.
Anything else you would like to share?
Just that we are lucky and blessed to be part of this community, and we will always strive to give back.