Last year, MRN Hospitality closed Zocalo restaurant on East 4th Street after 14 years. The owners said that they decided to shift their attention and resources over to Corner Alley, which was faring better in the midst of the pandemic.
“This wasn’t our core business and we didn’t do a very good job with this restaurant, so we made the decision to see if we could find someone who could do it better,” explains Ari Maron of MRN. “Our goal is always to do what’s best for the street.”
Maron says that after another great experience at Blue Habanero in Detroit Shoreway, he reached out to owner Alex Martinez.
“What we do on East 4th Street is try to collect the best operators in the city and put them all on one street so it becomes a destination,” adds Maron. “These guys are the best; everything from the design and construction to the operation.”
Chances are good that if you enjoy Mexican food, you have eaten at one of Martinez and partner Arturo Mendez Martinez’s restaurants. Overall, the team operates 16 different restaurants throughout Northeast Ohio, broken up into concepts named Tres Potrillos, Jalapenos, El Palenque, Fiesta Habaneros, Tito’s Mexican Grill, Tacologist and Blue Habanero.
But Martinez says the new East 4th Street restaurant, which will be called Blue Agave, will be the company’s flagship.
“It will be more like Blue Habanero and Tacologist,” says Martinez. “More trendy, stepping out of the traditional Mexican like fajitas with rice and beans, enchiladas and stuff like that.”
Like Blue Habanero and Tacologist, Blue Agave will feature a lengthy roster of creative “street tacos.” Those core items will be bolstered by starters like queso, guacamole, taquitos and cheese-stuffed, bacon-wrapped jalapenos. For diners in search of heartier mains, a concise selection of house specialties includes items like chicken in spicy cream sauce, grilled mixed seafood, carne asada and a queso-smothered giant burrito. Martinez says that a lower-level exhibition kitchen, where employees once pressed and cooked corn tortillas, will be resurrected.
Zocalo boasts a sizeable bar that connects to a roomy front patio. Martinez plans to make good use of that real estate by upgrading the cocktail program with top-flight tequilas.
Work already has begun to update the 4,500-square-foot, two-level restaurant.
“The bones were beautiful, but we want it to be more trendy and modern,” says Martinez.
There are new tile floors up and down, new tile going up and a new paint job and color scheme being applied. The goal is to open in early April.
For Martinez and his partner, who came to the States in 2001 and opened their first restaurant in 2006, the new restaurant in the heart of Downtown is the culmination of a long, hard, but successful career in food.
“We started with Tres Potrillos in Montrose and started branching out,” he explains. “It’s sad to say but when Covid happened, lots of restaurants went out of business. That’s a reason why, in 2021, we actually opened six restaurants. It was terrible for the people who were in business for so long and had to close the doors because of the pandemic, but you have jump on the opportunities that come to you because if you don’t do it someone else will. To get downtown right now, especially being on East 4th, it’s huge for us. It’s a big deal.”
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