History repeats as El Rancho turns Mexican again

Tequila's brings successful chain to Steamboat

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Opening a Mexican restaurant at the end of April in a ski resort town doesn't worry Jose Garcia.

Neither does the presence of several established Mexican and Tex-Mex restaurants in Steamboat Springs.

"We're different here," Garcia said last week from inside Tequila's, his new downtown restaurant. "Our food is more authentic. We have a big menu."

Perhaps more importantly -- and what Garcia doesn't mention -- is the success he's had with a regional chain of Tequila's restaurants stretching from Taos, N.M., to Glenwood Springs.

That success is what landlord Tom Sharp said indicates a bright future for the newest occupant of his building at 435 Lincoln Ave. Past restaurants at the location have included the El Rancho, the El Rancho Nuevo, Seasons at the Pond and Coyote Springs.

"They pack them in wherever they go," Sharp said of Garcia and his group of Tequila's restaurants. "They have experience in resort markets. If they've survived in Durango and Taos and Glenwood Springs there's no reason for them not to be successful in Steamboat."

For Garcia, a Guadalajara native who moved to Washington more than two decades ago, getting into the restaurant business meant starting at the bottom.

As a 16-year-old, he washed dishes in a restaurant owned by his cousins. Garcia's duties eventually broadened to include bus boy, waiter, bartender and chef. A few years later, he fulfilled the dream of opening a restaurant of his own, a Mexican establishment in Seattle.

"It was hard, a lot of work," Garcia said. "It was real tough."

Garcia opened the first Tequila's in Wenatchee, Wash., and later expanded the operation to two other locations in the state before deciding to move elsewhere.

"I was a little tired of Washington weather," he said of the decision.

On a long drive to Mexico, Garcia stopped in Durango in the southwest corner of Colorado.

"I really liked that town," he said. "I decided to move there and open a restaurant."

The Durango venture was a success, Garcia said, so he and some partners continued to look elsewhere in the state for expansion, eventually opening restaurants in Grand Junction, Glenwood Springs and Golden. Garcia said patrons at his Glenwood Springs restaurant recommended he pursue a Steamboat location.

The new restaurant has taken on a different look over the past three weeks, with sombreros placed atop each overhead table light fixture and colorfully painted chairs adorning many of the restaurant's tables, in addition to other cultural touches.

Carlos Patino, Garcia's brother-in-law, will run the Steamboat restaurant once Garcia returns to Durango. Patino and Garcia recruited several employees from existing Tequila's restaurants to help get the Steamboat location off to a strong start, Garcia said. The restaurant also plans to hire locally.

Tequila's tri-fold menu is full of a variety of Mexican dishes, including Garcia's favorite, the "Tequila's especial." The entree features jumbo prawns grilled over charcoal and served with a green tomatillo sauce; baby shrimp tops the Spanish rice served on the side.

Most dinner entrees range in price from $10 to $13. Lunch specials include a variety of combination platters from $5.75 to $7.25. Homemade sopapillas highlight the dessert menu. Appetizers include sauteed mushrooms, Mexican pizza and baby shrimp nachos.

Fresh-squeezed lime juice and Hornitas tequila make up the restaurant's house margaritas, which were named the best in Glenwood Springs by that city's chamber of commerce. A variety of Mexican and American beers also are on the drink menu, as well as an extensive tequila selection.

Tequila's grand opening Thursday came during the transition between the winter and summer tourist seasons, but Garcia wasn't concerned.

"This is a time we like to open," he said. "The locals will be the ones who support us (in the long run). If you make it with the locals, you're going to make it."

Tequila's is scheduled to be open seven days a week, serving lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

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