"History is always happening" at Little Rock Central High School National Historic Site
Juanita's, the venerable Tex-Mex restaurant and music venue, is leaving the South Main Street location it's called home since 1986 for the River Market and the former home of Bill St., 614 President Clinton Ave. The move will happen in June.
"We were at the end of our lease and couldn't come to terms with our landlord," Juanita's general manager James Synder said. "We were looking at the cost of doing business on 13th Street versus the cost of doing business in the River Market, and moving made sense."
The future location is two stories. Snyder said he anticipates the capacity in the upper level will be larger than Juanita's current music room. "Hopefully, we'll be able to bring in bigger acts," he said.
UPDATE: I just visited the new location and talked with Snyder, co-owner Joe Cates and building owner Dennis Long.
Cates, who co-owns the business with restaurateur Jim O'Brien, said he doesn't anticipate any core changes in the move.
"We're not shaking the Juanita's brand. All we're doing is upgrading the building. Juanita's is a heritage name. We felt that, in order for the Juanita's facility to grow, we needed to go to a newer facility. We had to go to something that was more energy efficient."
The decision to move stemmed from a disagreement with landlord Lisa McNeir, whose late husband Frank McGehee opened Juanita's in 1986.
"We talked to her about remodeling the building, and we couldn't come to terms on who should pay for it, Cates said. "And it could've been four to six months remodeling it, and that would've really hurt business."
Cates expects to be open around June 10 without any gap in service.
"The Juanita's customers won't feel the change. When we turn the switch off on South Main, we'll turn the switch on the next day down here."
The restaurant portion of Juanita's, which will be housed in the lower level can accommodate about 75% of the seats Juanita's current dining room can, Snyder estimated. But with a large patio and overflow seating upstairs, the new location could handle more customers than the old, he and Cates said.
The venue space in the upper level is 4,000 square feet and looks cavernous, with hardwood floors and big windows at the north and south ends. A wooden bridge goes from the second level to President Clinton Avenue.
The building was built in 1911, according to building owner Dennis Long. His Long Sales Agency purchased it in the early '90s; it burned in 1993, and he spent 15 years remodeling it. Since 2008, he's had two, short-lived restaurants as tenants, Wrought Iron Grill and Bill St. Bar & Grill.
Long cited Juanita's established name as one of the primary reasons he picked the bar and venue instead of other suitors. "It helps if you've got experience," he said.
The venue will be non-smoking, though smoking will be allowed on the patio, Cates and Snyder said.
One new wrinkle: On Saturday nights, after the restaurant closes, the lower level of Juanita's will turn into a comedy club, curated by local comedian Patrick "Angry Patrick" Beam.