Owner, A Quadriplegic, Overcomes Odds To Run RestaurantBy Jason DeRusha

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — At Saguaro Restaurant in south Minneapolis, you’ll find tacos, enchiladas and tamales, but this isn’t exactly a Mexican restaurant.

“It’s Mexican with an Arizona flair,” Chef Rich Harrison said.

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Harrison is creating dishes with freshly crafted sauces, and bright — even sweet — peppers like the guajillo.

“Our inspiration was my situ, Arabic for grandma,” owner Mandy Abdo Sheahan said.

As a kid, Abdo Sheahan used to visit her grandmother, Helene Abdo, in Tucson, before the family moved to Minnesota.

“Her cooking was a mix of Lebanese, some American influences, some Mexican, even some Native American influence,” she said.

Her grandmother has since died, but those flavors live at Saguaro.

“We wanted a place she would like to come,” Abdo Sheahan said.

No doubt she would be proud of what her granddaughter has done here. Not just because the food is so good, but because of all that Abdo Sheahan has overcome.

“I was a senior at University of Notre Dame. It was rainy night,” in 1995, recounted Abdo Sheahan. “It was that rain that turned into ice, the car hit the ice, slid, hit another car, that was all she wrote.”

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Abdo Sheahan lost the use of her arms and her legs — she is a quadriplegic. She was in a wheelchair from that point on, but today she’s running her own restaurant.

“I think you have to make the decision to move forward or not. As a family we’ve chosen to move forward and do what we can do. As a family that’s what we did,” she said.

Her family knows restaurants: her dad owns the Nicollet Island Inn, her brothers own My Burger, and she and her cousin run Big Fat Bacon at the Minnesota State Fair.

“I needed something of my own,” she said.

In less than a year, Abdo Sheahan and Chef Harrison have tweaked their menu 15 times. This summer they’ve added a line of tacos including fried cauliflower and crispy chorizo, spicy pork, and roasted mushroom.

“What you think people are going to like isn’t necessarily what they’re going to like. People surprise you,” she said.

People do surprise you: a restaurant with unexpected flavors that fill your stomach, and an owner – with a personal story that fills your soul.

“I’ve been learning a lot. This is a big learning experience for me,” she said.

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Saguaro is open for dinner 7 days a week at 4 p.m., and brunch on Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The restaurant is located on 5309 Lyndale Ave. S. in Minneapolis.

Jason DeRusha