Pepitos, which closed in December after 46 years in south Minneapolis, has new owners.
The duo behind the purchase are also taking over the neighboring Parkway Theater.
Local investors and neighborhood residents Ward Johnson and Eddie Landenberger are eager to bring both a new Mexican restaurant and a revived entertainment venue to the corner of 48th Street and Chicago Avenue S.
Pepitos as it was will be no more. Johnson and Landenberger are replacing the neighborhood institution with a new outpost of St. Paul's El Burrito Mercado.
Johnson said that he and Landenberger were looking for a family-friendly restaurant that would put a modern spin on authentic Mexican food to honor Pepitos' legacy, and the owner of El Burrito Mercado seemed like a great fit.
"It just felt like the perfect match," Johnson said. "I'm happy that we were able to bring a restaurant that ... gave respect to the tradition and the history of what was in that building before."
Johnson's love for Pepitos is especially personal. He and his wife not only went to Pepitos for their first date, but they also got engaged at the restaurant.
"I'm excited not only as an investor in this, and an operator in the theater part, but I'm excited as a person who lives in the neighborhood," Johnson said.
The first location of El Burrito Mercado has served St. Paul's West Side for 36 years, and is co-owned by Milissa Silva-Diaz.
Silva-Diaz said that from her first visit to the location, it felt like another perfect location for El Burrito Mercado.
"I love that it's in a residential area over there," Silva-Diaz said, describing the community-oriented atmosphere of El Burrito Mercado's St. Paul location.
"I'm excited to hear stories of people that were frequent, loyal customers to Pepitos."
The Minneapolis location will have a bar, a similar menu, a takeout deli and tamale-making classes that have grown popular in St. Paul.
In a news release, longtime Pepitos owner Joe Minjares said that it seems the restaurant will be in good hands. Last year, the once-popular Mexican eatery put its building up for sale due to financial woes and the declining health of Minjares. His daughter, Pamela Senkyr, who ran the restaurant along with her brothers, told the Star Tribune in October that the decision to sell came on the heels of a string of hardships.
After struggling financially for several years, Pepitos had surrendered its liquor license after falling far behind on the taxes. And her father's worsening condition from pulmonary fibrosis had played a big role as well, Senkyr said.
"Ever since my dad got sick, it feels like the restaurant is sick," Senkyr said in October. "It feels like the restaurant is dying with him."
Johnson and Landenberger plan to remodel the Parkway Theater and operate it once it reopens. Johnson said they are hoping to give the venue a more "upscale feel" and provide a space for unique, performance-centered experiences. They hope to continue to show classic and indie movies in the Parkway, as well as hosting live performances.
If all goes well with the planning and licensing of the projects, El Burrito Mercado and the Parkway Theater could open as soon as mid-May or early June, Johnson said.
Lauren Otto is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.