Old family values

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Al Key/DRC
Tall windows by the tables look out over Locust Street at Cafe Herrera in Denton.
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Cafe Herrera brings modern Tex-Mex to historic space on the Square

Enchiladas, fajitas and Tex-Mex on the lighter side are coming to the Square after almost two years of construction and renovation at 100 W. Oak St.

Cafe Herrera is set to open its doors Thursday for a soft opening before the grand opening March 28, the second concept restaurant from the family that owns two Herrera’s Cafes in Dallas and a third in Carrollton.

“We’re trying to not necessarily be that funky, hole-in-the-wall Tex-Mex joint, and we don’t want to try being anything high-end or anything like that either,” owner Gil Bonifaz said. “We want to be right in the middle.”

The restaurant features a modern twist on the traditional Tex-Mex with more health-conscious items, vegetarian options and specialty cocktails while still paying homage to its roots, decorating the walls with black-and-white photos showing the history behind Herrera’s.

Herrera’s Restaurant was founded in 1971 by Bonifaz’s great-grandmother, Amelia Herrera, at a location on Maple Avenue in Dallas, and she built it up so she was able to leave one to each of her four children by the time she died. The original location has moved from Maple Avenue and another has closed, but all remain family owned and operated.

Bonifaz recently decided to try a different venture and start a Cafe Herrera, which opened in the beginning of 2013 at Mockingbird Station and has been a successful venture. While the menu, name and decor all differ from the original Herrera’s, customers can expect the same level of service and quality, Bonifaz said.

“One thing that we’re trying to do, and we never want to veer away from, is we always want it to be very locally driven,” he said. “We’ve had a name in this market for a long time, and whether they dined with us 30 years ago or it’s their first time today, they’re going to get the same great service and meal because we’re family owned and operated.”

Right after the first Cafe Herrera opened, a friend of a friend approached Bonifaz about the vacancy at 100 W. Oak St. While he was hesitant, he still came out to Denton, and after looking at the property and talking with the building owner and property manager, he couldn’t turn down the offer.

“I was a little hesitant because I had a lot on my plate then, but I came out, looked at it and fell in love with the space,” he said. “I love that the building is [nearly] 100 years old and has a lot of character. I just think it’s a unique space. ... They offered us a good deal, and it was something I didn’t want to pass up.”

The process to turn the space into a functional restaurant has been a challenge. They signed the lease to the building in December 2012, and renovations to a historic building took extensive planning and multiple approvals.

The first contractor on the project also didn’t work out, and the current contractor, Complete Construction Group, had to redo some of the initial work.

“I think they’ve done a great job,” said Bonifaz’s mother, Cynthia. “When we walked into this space when there was nothing here, I was just like, ‘Wow! What are you going to do here? What’s your vision?’ Because all I saw was cement and pipes.”

Now, the front doors lead to a hallway that opens up to the main dining room with large windows on the right-hand side down Locust Street, tables in the middle and a long bar on the left. The back of the room has a staircase alongside it, leading to the Green Room, which is another dining space that can be reserved for parties and events.

The name of the room has a double meaning, trying to make guests feel special as they would in the so-called “green rooms” for guests on television shows, but also to represent the University of North Texas. This and other features, including long, high-top “community” tables, are unique to the Denton location.

“Just going around Denton, it’s definitely a community-driven environment and we wanted to embrace that,” Bonifaz said. “If Bob wanted to come in and just sit at the table and work on his laptop while he has a bite to eat, or to meet someone, it creates a casual and unpretentious atmosphere.”

The tables also help facilitate the sense of community that has been established at Herrera’s in Dallas, Cynthia Bonifaz said. They never want someone to come in and feel uncomfortable eating alone, and by having an area for single diners, it’s more welcoming.

In true Herrera’s fashion, another family is joining Bonifaz at the Denton location. Bonifaz’s cousin, Jason Marquez, will serve as the Denton location’s general manager. Both grew up in the family business, and Marquez ventured out into corporate dining management before coming to Cafe Herrera, he said.

“I’m bringing what I learned from these other locations and trying to use the best practices here to make the restaurant so much stronger,” Marquez said. “Getting back into the family restaurants, I have a little more pressure on me, but it’s good pressure because I want to make sure that I hold up the name, as opposed to working for another company. There’s a lot of pride in it.”

Cafe Herrera will officially open March 28 and begin normal business hours. It will be open seven days a week, with hours Sunday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and on Friday and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.

JENNA DUNCAN can be reached at 940-566-6889 and via Twitter at @JennaFDuncan.


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