It starts with the perfect bite of salsa.
Freshly crushed tomatoes paired with chiles, garlic, lime juice and signature spices is enough to attract any growling stomach to the doors of Tres Amigos Grill in Winter Garden.
The family-owned restaurant has become a local staple for residents and visitors alike, but what many people don’t know is that it all began with only salsa and a vision board.
About 10 years ago, Chef John Kresl and his family began to sell their salsa at the Winter Garden Farmers Market. It turned out to be an instant hit.
“People were grabbing the collar of my chef coat and shaking me, saying, ‘You must do something with this salsa because it's the best salsa we’ve ever had,’” John Kresl said. “The energy you get from the people who love the salsa and taste it is amazing.”
At the time, John Kresl was doing private chef work for families, as well as catering events, but his cooking experience bloomed from a young age.
The love for food and cooking was embedded in his family life growing up in Chicago. Kresl said his father found relaxation in cooking on the weekends and inspired him to take cooking classes. Some of his favorite dishes from his dad are beef bourguignon or pasta carbonara.
In college, John Kresl worked at Red Robin while he studied law. He said the restaurant business enamored him and he found himself wanting to learn everything he could. Instead of finishing college, he chose to pursue a career in the restaurant, which paid off as he quickly climbed the ladder to managerial positions and even opened some locations from the ground up.
He later got into sales, where he excelled in helping people start businesses, followed by executive recruiting which he did for 10 to 12 years.
He said that around 2009, his wife, Stephanie Kresl, helped him to realize that although he was good at his job, it wasn’t what he loved to do.
“I loved to throw parties and feed families and friends, especially those in need,” he said. “That’s when we started our catering company, The Take Home Chef.”
The family had been selling its salsa at the market for about two years when The Fresh Market grocery store called John Kresl and asked if it could carry the salsa in store. Lucky’s followed suit.
“I had never been a food manufacturer before, but I know when to say yes to a good opportunity,” he said.
Now, he and his family make 500 to 1,000 pints for The Fresh Market every week.
The family was thrown a curveball at the end of 2019, however. Lucky’s went out of business, and the Kresls lost one of their biggest business partners.
John Kresl said he knew something had to change.
“I knew at the beginning of 2020 that we needed to have more ways to ensure our success, because what if something happened like this again?” the owner said.
That’s when one of his sons, Johnny Kresl, came up with the idea.
“My son came to me and said, ‘Dad, what if you opened up a restaurant and I could learn how to be a manager, and then one day I could apply those skills to my own business venture, and you could be my mentor?’” John Kresl said. “Johnny is very mature, responsible and has excellent drive. If he has a fault, it's only that he likes to take extra time to make sure everything is absolutely perfect.”
John Kresl immediately put the idea on his vision board, and that same year they were signing the lease papers for the restaurant building.
Johnny, who is 19, was just recently promoted to assistant general manager, after a year of training, and said he is excited about the future and the many possibilities.
“The inspiration behind my idea was to learn business, and I love to learn, so there’s no better opportunity to learn than to manage a restaurant,” Johnny Kresl said. “The best part is helping people, and we get the chance to do that every day.”
John Kresl said family is a huge part of what they do at the restaurant.
His other son and one of his brothers also work at the grill. Stephanie Kresl works at the Winter Garden Farmers Market on the weekends, and even his mother likes to volunteer her time when she comes to visit.
“She likes being there so much that after a full week of work she would still go because she feels it's a blessing to be there and interact with our community,” John Kresl said of his wife.
One of his brothers, Tom Kresl, who also serves as the grill’s general manager, runs the restaurant while he is not there and attends the Clermont Farmers Market on Sundays to sell the salsa.
“My passion for this business and cooking comes from the love of making people feel good about not only the food but also the need to serve others as a family,” Tom Kresl said. “It all comes from God. He has given me some talents to help burgers enjoy life with us at the farmers markets and at our restaurant.”
The restaurant is known for its elevated south of the border fresh and flavorful selections that offer even the pickiest customers with options.
The menu includes tender skirt steak, juicy marinated chicken, succulent wild-caught shrimp, crispy slow cooked-carnitas and locally sourced veggies. Customers can choose from an entree platter, a bowl, stuffed tacos or street tacos as their vessel.
“We go out of our way to provide outrageously fresh and locally sourced food so that way we can provide the taste but also support other local businesses,” John Kresl said. “This community is all so supportive of each other.”
The business even sells its own homemade spice blend so customers can take the flavors home with them and share them with their own families.
But although residents enjoy the food, perhaps the most memorable part of the dining experience is the people.
John Kresl loves giving back to the community even more than he does cooking.
“I wouldn’t want to be here if I didn’t feel like I was a service to our customers and our community,” he said. “We have so much to give, and we want to be a constant source of light for those who honor us by coming in.”
Another special partnership the non-profit has formed is with Matthew’s Hope.
The non-profit homeless outreach ministry in Winter Garden helps connect the West Orange community with various resources and services of need.
The restaurant donates all of its tips to Matthew’s Hope, and a member from the organization even helped to build the signature Tres Amigos sign inside the eatery. John Kresl also has catered events and donated items for other local fundraisers and organizations, including West Orange High School and Harbor House.
John Kresl said Matthew’s Hope’s missions align with his own personal missions when it comes to finding the lost and helping the forgotten. He said God drives his passion for helping others.
“I love God with all my heart, strength, soul and mind, and I have his light inside of me, and there’s nothing better to me than to be a light to other people and to serve them in any way that I can,” he said.
In the future, he hopes he can continue to serve the community and would love to expand the restaurant, he said.
The family is about to open a second booth at the Winter Garden Farmers Market, which will be the grill aspect, and will even offer breakfast options like skillet potatoes, eggs, sausage and, of course, fresh salsa.
John Kresl said he could see Tres Amigos opening a smaller version of the grill in one of the open markets with other vendors in the future like Plant Street Market or East End Market.
“We truly love everyone exactly the same; I don’t see anyone as different, no matter what they believe or what they look like or what they do,” he said. “To me, if I get a chance to serve you some good food with a smile and make you feel better, then that's all I care about.”
TRES AMIGOS GRILL
ADDRESS: 1025 S. Dillard St., Winter Garden
PHONE: (407) 614-3975
HOURS: 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Saturday