EAT + EAT Feature
Villa Corona Restaurants
Family and Food: A Legacy Lives on in Napa Valley


Published On: May 08, 2023
PHOTO BY JOHN KLYCINSKI // Pictured above, The Villaseñor Family: L-R Fernando, Gabriela, Ismael, Guillermina, Daniel and Carlos (brother Miguel, not shown)

In 1960 Ismael and Guillermina Villaseñor immigrated from Mexico to San Francisco, California to make a new life in the United States. To support his family, Ismael started picking fruit in the bay area but soon got his start in the restaurant business working at a cafeteria in the San Francisco airport and later went on to work at the Dock restaurant in Tiburon. Ismael eventually joined the Golden Gate Switch Board Company, where he worked for ten years, and when the company moved to Napa, the family decided to follow.

Ismael had always wanted to have his own business, and the move to Napa was the beginning of his ambitious desire to have a restaurant. In 1972 he received the opportunity to open Villa Azteca Mexican Restaurant in the Bel Aire Plaza in Napa. The original restaurant sat about 60 people, and although he had no formal training, Ismael loved to create and serve his version of the Mexican food he craved from his homeland. The menu included dishes such as Birria (slow roasted marinated goat), Menudo, Chile Verde, Chile Colorado, and Enchiladas.

Son Carlos Villaseñor remembers the early days of the family business. “We all grew up in the restaurant; if we weren’t at school, we were likely helping out at the restaurant. In 1974 my parents began to make Mexican cheese (Queso Fresco and Panela) while also operating the restaurant. Twice a week as kids, we would accompany our parents to deliver these items to the mission district in San Francisco. Occasionally our last stop would be at the home of a family friend, La Señora Santana. Years later, I discovered she was the mother of renowned musician Carlos Santana.”

In 1983 the Napa restaurant moved to its current location and was renamed Villa Corona, a combination of the parents’ last names. Initially, Villa Corona operated as a market offering homemade tortillas, pastries, and other baked goods. Then, a year later, they added restaurant service. Starting over in the new location was tough, so Ismael began to drive up and down Napa Valley selling products from the restaurant in Mexican neighborhoods to promote Villa Corona. His family called these weekly excursions “Ismael’s la venta” (the sale).

Today the family legacy lives on. Fernando and Gaby, the two youngest Villaseñor children, manage the Napa location. Son Carlos expanded the business in 1997 when he opened up two locations in Vacaville, California, and a catering company. Soon after, in 1999, son Daniel and his wife Yesenia opened a fourth Villa Corona restaurant in the quaint town of St. Helena, California.

This year Villa Corona is celebrating 50 years of operation in Napa Valley and neighboring counties, offering Mexican food in a casual setting and full-service catering.