By Jessica Kronzer, contributor
Jose Reyes still remembers what it was like visiting his father’s first Mexican restaurant in Memphis, Tennessee, on weekends three decades ago. He would stand on a platform his dad built for him to reach the cash register. And customers would gush over him as he collected their payments.
Reyes has continued the family’s legacy and helped opened restaurants in Tennessee, West Virginia and Ohio — and now Harrisonburg.
Tequila Taco Bar is opening at 1007 S. Main St. in the property vacated by Brickhouse Tavern after the business closed in June. Reyes hopes to open the business in the spring.
While the business does not yet have an opening date, Reyes has begun renovating the space to transform it into a ”laid back” Mexican restaurant with decorations and custom-made glassware from Mexico. The menu will feature Mexican street food and drinks, including hand-made Margaritas. Unlike other Mexican restaurants with large menus, Reyes plans to have a smaller selection that focuses on bite-sized food with “authentic flavor.”
“We’re shooting for a fresh, clean atmosphere and concept,” Reyes said.
Reyes said most people only know a few types of tequila, but he’s ordering 100 different kinds for his menu. He said he planned his business concept based on the practice in Mexico of going to a “corner” for burritos, a different “corner” for churros, and so on.
“I kind of brought everything under the same roof,” Reyes said. “It’s kind of like a little taste of Mexico.”
As a part of his “fresh” and “clean” concept, Reyes bought a machine that produces freshly squeezed oranges, limes and grapefruits for the restaurant’s margaritas.
Margaritas are a No. 1 seller for Mexican restaurants. The restaurant will have a variety of beers on draft, and Reyes said he is also in contact with local breweries to offer local beers. After doing research by speaking with area college students, he decided to expand his drink menu to include more cocktails, including frozen margaritas.
Nate Sramany, a JMU senior, said he is excited about Tequila Taco Bar opening to offer a place close to campus for friends to meet up. He said he’d be interested in an upscale restaurant that matches JMU’S vibe with “pizzazz.”
“The atmosphere doesn’t really matter unless the food speaks,” Sramany said.
He said that given Harrisonburg’s diverse population, he expects authentic Mexican food to do well. He described his perfect margarita as “a little bit tart,” but with a kick.
Omar Ruiz, Reyes’ cousin, will serve as assistant manager of Tequila Taco Bar. He said he’s looking forward to the business “growing,” and explained the advantage of having a family-run business, especially when opening a business out-of-state.
“It’s just for a business is better to have trust,” Ruiz said. “I feel like family is always the first way to go.”
While Reyes is still a co-owner of several establishments, he sold his restaurant in Covington, Tennessee, in September because he could not obtain a liquor license because of the restaurant’s proximity to churches. While he had support from the community and helped the business to stay open amid the pandemic restrictions, he decided to sell it to open a restaurant that better fit his ambitions. In November, Reyes looked at the space for rent in Harrisonburg and immediately began negotiations.
“Everything kind of came together, so I was like ‘You know what this is meant to be — let’s go for it, let’s take a risk,’” Reyes said. “All we can do is work hard, and you leave it in God’s hands to see if this was the right decision.”
The location of his newest restaurant was important not only for attracting customers but also for finding a city to raise his four children. For Reyes, one of the biggest challenges in opening his restaurant has been leaving his family in Tennessee until he finds a place for them to live.
“The good thing about nowadays is that we have technology,” Reyes said. “When my dad came [to the U.S.], and he left his family behind in Mexico they didn’t have any of that and so that’s a big plus.
The other restaurants Reyes and his family own have adapted to the pandemic with features such as curbside service and online ordering. Reyes’ plans for his restaurant might be affected by Harrisonburg’s COVID-19 restrictions, but he hopes to open a full-service restaurant and is looking into exploring nightlife options such as hiring a DJ.
If it works out, Reyes wants to open more “little taco bars” in other locations. He said he’s grateful for the opportunity in Harrisonburg, which is why he said he’s trying to blend local tastes, such as area beers, with authentic Mexican flavors.
“It’s gonna be something that people are going to love and that we’re gonna love,” he said.
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