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Thursday, February 17,2011

End of an era

Juanita’s closing is part of Boulder’s evolving culinary identity

By Kaely Moore

 

For 28 years, Juanita’s Mexican restaurant in downtown Boulder has witnessed a transforming city. It has survived the times, becoming a unique landmark along the Pearl Street Mall with its funky fašade and laid-back atmosphere.

 

As news has spread of the restaurant’s upcoming closure on Feb. 27, people are shifting their attention to the new Mexican restaurant that will take its place, as well as to a changing trend in the dining habits of Boulder community members.

Roger Berardi and his partner Michael Kretz opened Juanita’s on June 13, 1983, with the goal of bringing in Mexican food and culture at a time when both were relatively unfamiliar in the area.

According to current general manager Ed Bigg, the restaurant was busy from the get-go. Boulderites latched on to the casual style of the little Mexican joint, sipping margaritas in the Red Room lounge and digging into a wide selection of TexMex specialties.

The decision to close, Bigg says, comes at a time of culinary revolution. He says that people in Boulder are becoming more sophisticated in their tastes and more selective in their dining preferences. The new restaurant will seek to appeal to a wider dining demographic.

“What we’re hoping to create in this space is a brand new concept that still has its foundation in Mexican culture and cuisine, while elevating it to be more in-tune with the times,” Bigg says.

He says that the plan for the new restaurant isn’t fully developed at the moment, but it will hopefully be an establishment that “makes a statement,” with a menu that goes everywhere from street food to highend entrée dishes.

The style of the new place will incorporate a pre 1900s building fašade reminiscent of the historic image of downtown Boulder. This will allow for increased interior lighting, Bigg says, and a more inviting dining environment.

The present staff at Juanita’s was notified two months prior about its closing date. Because it isn’t yet determined when exactly the new restaurant will get under way, the establishment will most likely have an all-new staff.

Under ideal conditions, Bigg says, the new eatery will open sometime this summer.

Some people, Bigg says, have expressed concern about the changing trends in the dining scene in Boulder, with more upscale restaurants and fewer community eateries and quirky Pearl Street hangouts like Juanita’s.

“There’s no doubt that progress is a good thing,” Bigg says. “The way the Boulder dining scene is changing is really great for everybody.”

Boulder resident Steve Spencer says that he doesn’t think Juanita’s is closing — it’s simply changing.

“Changing is survival,” Spencer says.

“I’m hoping that by changing and re-branding they’ll bring some exciting energy to the Mexican restaurant business.”

Some community members are concerned that revamping restaurants like Juanita’s in downtown Boulder will limit the access of those who tend to be shorter on cash, such as university students.

But Bigg says the restaurant that takes the place of Juanita’s will still attempt to present an economically viable menu.

“Hopefully there will be something there for the clientele who have been faithful for many years, as well as things that will appeal to people who are more serious about their dining experience,” he says.

Bigg has been approached by old employees and long-time customers who have expressed both their support and their disappointment that Juanita’s is shutting its doors.

“There are a lot of memories here for a lot of people,” he says.

Bigg first started working with Juanita’s at its Denver location in 1986, which has since closed. He has worked at the Boulder location since 2000.

Throughout his time on Pearl Street, Bigg has often hired new employees who have lived in Boulder their entire lives and have been coming to Juanita’s since they were children.

The nostalgia of having spent so many years at Juanita’s and finally seeing it end hasn’t really hit him yet, Bigg says. Right now, everyone is just busy trying to keep things going until the end of the month.

“You can’t stay the same forever,” he says. “There is a time when you have to embrace change.”

Respond: letters@boulderweekly.com

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