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Tex Mex opens, Texas Mexican closes

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Tex Mex Bar and Grill has opened in Midtown, while a continued loss of business led the long-time original to close downtown.

Owner Mike Keolanui said he's focusing on his newest restaurant, Tex Mex Bar and Grill, and opening two more in Davis and Roseville after "furlough Fridays" and the recession doomed Texas Mexican Restaurant.

He’d initially planned to open Tex Mex as a sophisticated sister restaurant to the establishment that operated just off K Street Mall for 19 years. But Keolanui closed Texas Mexican quietly a month ago, without even posting a note on the door, after losing too much money.

"It was really sad," he said. "The furloughs were killing me. I just couldn't survive."

He’d taken over ownership of the restaurant at 1114 Eighth St. from his now-ex-wife, Griselda Barajas, and her parents Rosa and Victor Barajas in 2007 just as the recession began. Keolanui got the place reopened after it closed during an eminent domain battle between the property owner, Mohammed "Moe" Mohanna, and the city.

Nearly 75 percent of the steadfast downtown restaurant’s clientele were state workers. Despite many empty storefronts on nearby K Street, the restaurant did alright until furloughs began, he said.

The building will be redeveloped as part of a project to breathe new life into the 700 block of K Street. But construction won't begin until late 2011 or early 2012, said Maurice Chaney, spokesman for the city's Economic Development Department.

The building’s redevelopment had no impact on the closing, but Keolanui said he just couldn't hang on until it happens.

Keolanui suggested state furlough days be moved to Mondays to help central city businesses that are continuing to lose revenue from the absence of state workers. Mondays are already slow for many businesses, so furloughs on that day wouldn't hurt so much, he said.

Following more than $350,000 in renovations and some delays, Tex Mex had a soft opening last Friday at 2326 J St. The restaurant with six flat-screen TVs and a custom, recycled-glass bar that glows is now serving Texas-style cuisine with a Latin twist.

The menu includes a skirt steak house specialty, fried oyster nachos and Mama Rosa's Chicken Soup made with roast chicken, rice and avocado, as well as tacos, burritos, salads and enchiladas.

The bar was made from recycled brown beer bottles and blue Skyy Vodka bottles. The bar glows at night and heats up in the winter. Nearly $12,000 worth of lights change color behind the bar back. A tequila tower featuring 60 different brands of tequila will be installed soon.

Additional work on bathrooms will start next week. The exterior, including a sidewalk patio, will be redone.

“I had to get open. It’s been too damn long,” he said.

Hours now are 11 a.m. – 11 p.m. daily. In two weeks, hours expand to 6 a.m. – midnight and the restaurant will serve breakfast after a popular breakfast spot, Cornerstone Restaurant, closed down next door. A grand opening will be held in about a month.

Keolanui will expand the Tex Mex Bar and Grill "mini-chain" to Davis and Roseville. He's still deciding between two buildings in Davis but expects to sign a lease next week. He's also negotiating on a space in Roseville. He expects the Davis restaurant to be open by February and the Roseville restaurant next summer.

He and Griselda Barajas said they remain close friends and support each other’s careers. She was just a teen when her parents opened their first restaurant, Atlantes Mexican Restaurant, on 12th Street. They ran several others in Sacramento before Texas Mexican. She now owns and operates Griselda's Catering and Tex Mex @ the Capitol.

While sad that Texas Mexican could no longer make it, Barajas said she's happy he's opened Tex Mex. He's continuing to serve many of her mother's recipes and employ many of their long-time employees, she said.

"He is so passionate about it," she said. "He's someone I know that can continue with the family recipes and the traditions." 

 

Food photo provided by Tex Mex Bar and Grill. Other photos by Suzanne Hurt, a staff reporter covering business and development at The Sacramento Press. 

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