Leonor Antoni creates Latin restaurant for everyone with Corner

By on January 30th, 2013

Benjamin Brash / WUFT News

Leonor Antoni, 47, stands in front of Corner's iconic logo.

The goal was simple: blend all of the different flavors found in Latin America all under one roof, and make it accessible to the diverse people who call Gainesville home.

“There’s one place for some kind of people,” said Leonor Antoni, “and another place for another kind of people.”

“I wanted my place to be for everybody,” she said.

Corner is where South America meets the southern United States, and if you ask Antoni, the 47-year-old owner, it’s just what Gainesville needs.

The Latin-fusion restaurant is located at 1220 W. University Ave, right next to the breakfast and lunch place, Bagels & Noodles.

What attracted Antoni to Gainesville was its similarity to Berkeley, Calif. It’s a college town with many different and unique “levels of people.”

She sees university faculty and retirees, students, nurses and doctors from Shands Hospital, and the “underground artsy people with tattoos.”

Antoni wanted to offer plenty of dishes that fall underneath the Latin umbrella. Many restaurants offer Spanish food that all tastes the same, she said. Because Latin food is “gorgeous” to her, she wanted to offer something authentic and different.

Gainesville, said Antoni, is open to culture, open to authenticity and is known for its eclectic mix of everything.

A Unique Lady in a Unique City

The city is a lot like her.

She was born in Caracas, Venezuela. She went to film school in San Francisco, Calif., before moving to Ocala where she said she was “stuck in there with the horses,” thanks to her husband – “a horseman” – and two children.

She calls herself an artist; she’s written poetry and has a flair for the dramatic.

To keep herself busy in Ocala, she started cooking more and more. Eventually, she opened her kitchen as a casual cooking school.

Surprisingly, most of her students were her husband’s colleagues; they made horseshoes. She taught around seven of those men how to cook, and each night of cooking classes had a different theme.

On Spanish night, she taught them how to cook paella, played fitting background music and showing them how to use a “bota de vino,” the traditional way to drink wine in Spain.

“I’ve always been happy to feed people,” Antoni said.

Her goal, if Corner does well, is to open a cooking school. She’s the first, and only, classically-trained chef in her family. That’s because she feels more people will take her more seriously in the business world.

It’s just a title to her, though.

Family Environment Makes Community

Alicia Alvarado, 22, has worked at Corner since it opened its doors in August.

She said Antoni is very different from most bosses.

“She’s very easy to talk to, and you don’t find that at a lot of other places,” Alvarado said.

The environment, she said, is what makes Corner unique.

Everyone who works there gets along well, and there’s a wide spectrum of Latin food available on the menu.

Ben Brasch | WUFT

Alexander Germoser, 20, works in Corner's kitchen to prepare for the day's customers. He's Antoni's nephew.

Alvarado is from Miami, and she appreciates the modern look of Corner.

“There aren’t any piñatas here,” said Alvarado, “and it feels like you’re home when you come in here.”

Corner has its regular customers.

People who work at other local establishments, such as Leonardo’s by the Slice and the Holiday Inn, come by most days for breakfast.

The guys who work in the barbershop across the street come in for their cafe con leche and pastelitos.

The restaurant has become an area institution.

“People have said to me ‘I’m so glad you’re a part of our community now,'” Antoni said.

Antoni comes from a family of cooks; Venezuelan families, she said, just grow up cooking.

You don’t learn how to cook if you’re Latin, she said. You just cook.

“There’s no woman in my family that doesn’t cook great,” Antoni said.

She equated leaving Corner in someone else’s hands for the first time, just for an hour or two, to leaving your child with someone else for the first time. She was constantly worried that something might get messed up.

“All of a sudden, I have a third child,” she said, laughing.

When she speaks about Corner, it’s with passion and a heightened sense of care.

She “wanted to be an insider” in the Gainesville food community because she thought the city deserved it.

According to Alvarado, Antoni is there as often as she can be. If they ever need anything, she tells them to never hesitate to call.

She opens the restaurant most days, said Alvarado, and buys supplies that they might have ran out of the day before.

Ben Brasch | WUFT

Supplies are stacked on a case that carries Corner's cool logo.

And she’s always there within 10 minutes.

“I don’t know how she hasn’t gotten a speeding ticket by now,” Alvarado said.

For Antoni, opening a restaurant made sense. Feeding people makes her happy and allows her to connect with people in a way that’s more than just words.

“I was trying to reach all those audiences,” she said, “and so far, I have everybody.”

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