Old El Zarape location gets a fresh new Mexican restaurant

7/3/2014

By SCOTT AUST

By SCOTT AUST

saust@gctelegram.com

Jaime Medina was overcome by emotion briefly when talking about the support of his wife and family in making the Garden City businessman’s dream of opening a new restaurant a reality.

After a soft opening on Thursday, Medina’s venture, the El Patrón Restaurante & Cantina at 606 W. Fulton, opened for real today.

“We will do the best we can and hopefully people like it,” said Medina, who bought the building in 2009, which used to house the El Zarape restaurant. He’s been working for a couple of years to create the new restaurant, and calls himself a businessman not a restaurant man.

“The reason I bought it was I thought there was potential here for a restaurant,” he said. “I’m excited. I’m scared. I’m everything at once. But I’m more excited than anything else.”

One of the big things Medina did was hire Steve Tzul as general manager. Tzul, who has been in the hospitality business for about 13 years and is a graduate of the California School of Culinary Arts, is the former head chef at Samy’s Spirits and Steakhouse.

“It took a couple of years to get this guy working for me,” Medina said, gesturing to Tzul. “I mentioned it once, I mentioned it twice. I guess he didn’t think I was serious.”

Tzul said Medina often chatted him up about the idea whenever he dined at Samy’s. Eventually, Tzul became hooked on Medina’s proposal and now both are eager to make it a reality.

The restaurant serves Mexican and American food geared to families, with full, sit-down table service for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Both Tzul and Medina strongly believe in providing a welcoming atmosphere where customers aren’t just a guest, they are treated like family.

“We want to be known for our hospitality. We want people to be able to say they had the best experience ever in Garden City right here,” Tzul said. “This smile I have on my face, is the same smile I want my customers to have.”

Overcoming past history

One of the challenges for the restaurant will be overcoming a history of violence associated with the former bar, Mi Oficina Club, which was housed in the eastern half of the building.

Shirley Ortega, a neighbor who lives about a block west, shared her concerns with the Garden City Commission this past Tuesday about alcohol being served at the restaurant, given the former bar was the site of two murders.

“There’s been a murder on my lawn, and another murder behind the bar that it used to be. There have been other things happen as well,” she said.

A review of Telegram archives found articles referring to a July 2006 shooting, and a 1998 stabbing at the club. Ortega also is concerned about potential drunk drivers endangering neighborhood children.

“We’ve had lots of problems when they have served alcohol there. I strongly hope that’s taken into consideration,” she said.

While empathetic with Ortega’s concerns, the city commission indicated there is little the city can do. The restaurant is allowed under the property’s zoning, and the city doesn’t have much say in the issuance of a liquor license.

Half of the building is zoned light industrial and half is zoned general commercial. Both zoning districts allow restaurants to operate.

In May, the city granted Medina a parking waiver to allow restaurant customers to park in an empty lot across the street from El Patrón, with the caveat that Medina spread asphalt millings on the lot within a month and fully pave it within a year.

Zoning regulations don’t allow a tavern, which is defined as an establishment that gets 50 percent of its gross sales from alcohol, to operate without a conditional use permit. Medina assured the planning commission, according to meeting minutes, that alcohol sales would not be greater than half of his gross sales.

Randy Grisell, city attorney, said Tuesday that the city commission doesn’t have any authority to prevent the restaurant from opening since it is zoned properly. However, if the business generates nuisance complaints, law enforcement and/or code enforcement could investigate to determine if a violation of law has occurred.

As a Garden City resident for 30 years, Medina is aware of the location’s past troubles.

But Medina said that bad history is just that — history.

“That was the past. This is a whole new environment,” he said. “It’s not like it used to be. We are in a new century. We’re not going to be like that — like the Old West, you know? We’re not going to be like that. We don’t want that kind of atmosphere.”

Tzul agreed, saying El Patron is strongly pursuing a different clientele and atmosphere, one that caters to families. To that end, the restaurant will have security personnel on hand as well as security cameras. It has also hired a head bartender well-versed in alcohol laws.

Not your ordinary Mexican fare

While there are a number of Mexican food offerings in Garden City, Tzul said El Patrón’s use of certified angus beef will set it apart.

“Your traditional Mexican cuisine is not served with certified angus beef which is much softer, more flavorful. The marbleization is wonderful and beautiful. I mean, just looking at the loins alone you start salivating,” Tzul said. “I’m excited and passionate about it because I’ve cooked it for over six years, and I know the flavors it holds, the juiciness of it.”

Understandably, Tzul is quite passionate about the food. All sauces are made in house, and many of the recipes are tried and true, including some handed down from Medina’s parents.

The menu features a variety of appetizers like nachos, buffalo wings and quesadillas, soups and salads, burgers and sandwiches, pasta, fish, shrimp, Mexican entrees like fajitas, burritos and enchiladas. A couple of dishes Tzul highlighted included chilaquiles, a breakfast item, and the Patron Cowboy Burger.

Chilaquiles is a simple, but very flavorful dish because of the homemade sauce that makes it pop, he said. It consists of tortilla chips with green or red sauce, two eggs, and beans on the side.

The Patrón Cowboy Burger starts with a toasted bun, adds a six-ounce certified angus beef patty topped with four ounces of burnt ends, onion strings and barbecue sauce. Diners have a choice of cheese, pickles on the side and a choice of sides with the meal.

“This burger is so big we have to use a steak knife to hold it together or it will fall over on you,” Tzul said.

The prices are comparable with other full-service restaurants in town. Tzul said they did a lot of homework out of desire to offer affordable, homestyle food.

“The value of the customer is worth more than anything else,” he said.

The restaurant and cantina feature modern booths and tables, wood floors and a variety of artwork on the walls including some amazing paintings by Medina’s mother-in-law. The east side cantina has an occupancy of 91 people, while the restaurant side has a capacity of 85. The two sides share a wall but can be divided if necessary by closing two sets of doors.

Currently, El Patrón employs 35 people. Tzul said in two or three years, they hope to open a second restaurant somewhere in town and eventually they plan to offer a catering service. Next year, Tzul hopes to add a smokehouse where the restaurant could smoke its own meat.

“It’s an ambition. We want to push for the future,” he said.

“We’ve got big dreams. We’re not gonna stop here,” Medina said.

The restaurant will be open every day. Its hours are 6:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Monday through Saturday, and 6:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sundays. Carry out service is available. El Patrón has a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/ElPatron.RestauranteAndCantina. The phone number is (620) 805-5297.

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