ELKINS, W.Va. - Be it salsa music or signature Venezuelan dishes, Rob Masten and his wife, Derdlim, are committed to bringing a unique flavor to north central West Virginia.
Derdlim, a native of a mountain town in Venezuela, moved to the Elkins area about 13 years ago. Rob, 42, is a native of Parkersburg who was teaching music in Tucker County.
But the two actually met in Charleston. It was soon after Derdlim's arrival in the state, and Rob was playing in a salsa band at the Empty Glass, a bar in the East End.
They were married in 2002.
Working as a cook in a local diner, Derdlim noticed authentic Latin American cuisine was hard to come by in the state and especially in the Elkins area.
So the pair decided to open an authentic Venezuelan restaurant right in the heart of the Randolph County town.
The decision did not come without some trepidation, Rob said.
"I thought we'd either find a niche or we'd go out of business really quickly," he said, laughing.
That was six years ago, and El Gran Sabor has become a favorite haunt for area residents, including those from nearby towns in Canaan Valley.
It wasn't that he worried about the quality or taste of the food, Rob said. All of the recipes are Derdlim's, and she is the head cook.
She makes sure all of the ingredients are fresh, often driving to Pittsburgh to pick up items such as plantains - banana-like fruit more suitable for cooking - that are difficult to find in West Virginia.
Rob worried about people being willing to come and try the food.
"I was surprised that it turned out to be so popular," he added. Visitors come from Morgantown and Charleston, too.
"People are just really surprised there's an authentic Venezuelan restaurant here in Elkins," he said.
The restaurant first opened in the diner where Derdlim had worked, but the building couldn't comfortably accommodate the live music Rob wanted to offer. So about six years ago the couple opened in a house on Kerns Avenue.
The quaint house let them offer a live music venue in the back while dining patrons enjoyed food and conversation in the front, Rob said.