Thursday, April 26, 2012

Cantina Becoming Rio Bravo Reboot?

Rio Bravo Cantina, an Atlanta institution and popular into the late 1990s before a string of ownership changes led to its closure in 2002, may be resurrected soon.  Sources tell me that Cantina Taqueria & Tequila Bar in Terminus will soon be closed and sold, scheduled to reopen as Rio Bravo under new management and ownership.  I'm told that Cantina will definitely
be open for Cinco de Mayo celebrations but is likely to shutter shortly thereafter.  Cantina had been on my DeathWatch for months and its closure will not come as a surprise to most. 

Cantina, owned by Atlanta-based Here to Serve Restaurants, is the third attempt by the group in the corner space in Terminus. When the restaurant first opened, it was called LOLA, and served Italian fare. Not long after, the cuisine was changed to Mediterranean though the name remained the same. Later, the restaurant was retooled entirely into Cantina. The restaurant is busy but check averages are rather low given the prices of the food items.

Rio Bravo was started in 1985 by Ray Schoenbaum, son of Shoney's founder Alex Schoenbaum.  With the success of the Tex-Mex chain, Shoenbaum sold the group to Atlanta-based Applebee's in 1995.  At the time of the sale, Rio Bravo was an 11-unit chain with four other restaurants.   Applebee's sold the then 100-unit Rio Bravo chain to California-based Chevy's in 1999. By late 2002, the restaurant's popularity had waned, and all locations were closed.

At one point, the chain had locations in Florida, Michigan, Tennessee and Georgia. One of the more popular Atlanta area locations was at Powers Ferry Road and Barrett Parkway in Kennesaw. The Buckhead location at Roswell Road and Irby Avenue was leveled in late 2009, and I'm told developers still have plans for a hotel on the property, back in 09 said to be a Hampton Inn. In the time since the demolition, the roughly 1 acre parcel of land has functioned as a parking lot for nearby businesses. 

Ray Schoenbaum currently operates Ray's Killer Creek in Alpharetta, Ray's in the City downtown,  and Ray's on the River in Sandy Springs.  A second Ray's on the River was planned for TOWN Brookhaven, but it along with a number of other notable eateries like Nuevo Laredo Cantina and Rolling Bones Premium Pit BBQ, all backed out.  Both TOWN Brookhaven and Terminus are plagued by parking issues, but Terminus has the luxury of being situated at one of the most high traffic intersections in the city (Peachtree and Piedmont) 

If Shoenbaum can re-create the fun and inviting atmosphere of the original Rio Bravo locations before their repeated ownership changes, he may just be able to find success in Buckhead once again.

What do you think of this restaurant reboot?  Do you think Shoenbaum can find success in Terminus?  What other restaurant of yesteryear do you miss most from Atlanta?  Please share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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32 comments:

Anonymous said...

I have fond memories of dining frequently at Rio Bravo on Pleasant Hill Road in Gwinnett before that area changed so drastically in the late 90's to 2000's. I think that a resurrection would bode well with native Atlantans like myself - if nothing else, for the nostalgia factor.

Anonymous said...

You'd think with all those hungry bridezillas just down the block at Brides By Demetrios the place would be packed. Too many tacos means Spanx won't be able to save you.

Anonymous said...

I loved the place, but aren't there more that enough Mexican places in the metro area???

TheJohnP said...

I loved Rio Bravo back in the day, but back then the choices for Mexican (or rather Americanized Mexican) weren't as various as it is now. My favorite part was they made their tortillas fresh on premises, which I hope is a practice they continue.

It may do well at Terminus, but probably would do better out in the suburbs where everyone who enjoyed Rio Bravo from way back when are now likely residing. Even with a name people were fond of, just wonder how much of a draw it will actually turn out to be.

Anonymous said...

Just another failure of the Terminus "retail" experiment. The whole project has been flawed from the start as a retail endeavor.

Buckhead is just not a "walking" area. The project was built like it was in NYC or Chicago and could survive on walk-by's ... just not the case.

The new Sub-Zero/Wolf store has a chance because that's a destination type store. But nobody is going to go through the hassle just to get some enchilada's.

Anonymous said...

I lived close to Rio Bravo in Buckhead in the Early 90's the food was never really good. Sadly my favorite was Sala in Vahi.... I guess the 75 dollar pitchers of margarittas killed them...... if you liked rio bravo just go to chuy's..... same difference..... bad sour mix with bad tequilla.....

Anonymous said...

Location and parking will kill anything there. Visible? Sure. But if patrons can't figure out how the heck to get in (which the average non-Buckhead person can't from my hellish experiences inviting OTP friends to Cantina, Brides by Demetrios, MF Sushi, and Lola) they'll give up and choose one of the endless other options around. Too bad too, because they have a few staple items I loved (ie Holy Guacamole) and MF was great. But Rio Bravo surviving that location is laughable.

Anonymous said...

This brings me back to the glory days -- homemade and warm tortillas paired with their queso... I will be visiting frequently

Carl said...

Now I've got the Rio Bravo jingle bouncing around my head! All very interesting. Thanks as always for having the scoop AND the amazing backstory!

Anonymous said...

The Kennesaw location was at the corner of Barrett Parkway and Busbee Parkway in the Main Street Town Center plaza, and is now a Provino's Italian Restaurant.

Anonymous said...

LOVED LOVED LOVED their Cinco de Mayo celebrations in the Roswell Location. Have been searching ever since for anything remotely similar and to date have not found it. Would gladly hire a Taxi to celebrate downtown for Cinco de Mayo in the same atmosphere!!! PLEASE COME BACK!!!

Anonymous said...

Ray Schoenbaum

Grant, the Hipster Dad said...

As much as I loved Rio Bravo in the nineties, I loved the similar Casa Gallardo on Spring in Smyrna even more. I'd love to time travel back to that place for a meal.

Anonymous said...

With some decent locations, this reboot could succeed on the nostalgia factor alone. Every time I pass one of the former RB locations, I still think how much I miss them, and my friends all agree. Our college/post-college lives from late 80's to mid 90's seem to have been centered around RB. I'm not sure Terminus is the right place, though....even those of us who work in that area can't get excited about the location. But get somewhere close to the old Buckhead, Powers Ferry, or even Ashford-Dunwoody locations, and we are THERE!

Anonymous said...

LOVE LOVE LOVE Cantina at the Terminus! They'll surely be missed! Those will be tough shoes to fill..

:((

Jamie O said...

Bricktops, Jacks New Yorkers Deli, Yogurberry, Flying Biscuit, Subway remain. Heard there was to be new restaurants coming in as well to replace MF Sushi. Terminus and Cousins definitely has some work to do to simplify the experience for new patrons to frequent their retail stores! R.I.P. Cantina

Anonymous said...

Good news folks! Sources say they will not be closing!

Jenna S. said...

Well, you sure predicted the closure of Cantina some time ago!

Anonymous said...

Anything will be better than Cantina!!!

Bryan 2 Design Kitchen and Bath Studio said...

While I am a little late to this party, I was just talking to my dad about what a shame it was that the quality went away, and closed. There are very loyal fans out there, but Terminus is not the right fit IMHO.

Anonymous said...

I would love to see rio bravo again. There was alot of good times there with friends and family. I met my wife at rio bravo and would love to be able to revisit some good old memories with my wife.

Anonymous said...

WOW finally! When the chain was sold the first thing to go was the cheese dip. As more of the menu items changed or disappeared the sales all dropped off. If they can re-create the fresh menu and add a few new items I bet they will again be successful.

Anonymous said...

Rio Bravo will succeed if they bring back their queso dip and fresh made tortilas. No one in town comes close to how good Rio Bravos was. Great queso, great tortilas, faijitas, margaritas... They will succeed.
Put a restaurant in the growing Cumming, Ga area and you will have a wait every night. Free and plenty of parking up this way with few decent Mexican places to choose from.

Anonymous said...

Cantina is still open. What's going on?? Where are you getting your sources Eli? Terminus seems to be doing better than before. Looks like the naysayers were wrong again! ha!

Anonymous said...

Rio Bravo is very well missed. My wife used to work there and I would love to have our IRC card back for the free meals. Please Ray bring it back soon.
Another restaurant that I wish would come back is
"G Golly Mollies" off of 41 by White Water

Anonymous said...

Closing Dates are wrong. I was Rio Bravo Tampa Manager until our last day of operation in October of 2006. Tampa Market PnLs were strong. We had had record Cinco de Mayo sales that year.

Anonymous said...

I gladly welcome the original rio bravo back in Tampa! Excellent fajitas and dining. Others tried to copy but none matched the quality. Ive been to Chevys in Orlando and its a wear substitute. Chueys is ok in Buckhead but I only get there twice a year.

redneck said...

I loved Rio Bravo until they changed the the menu items! We would complain about it and the waiter would say everyone hates the new items!!

In for Din! said...

I have always secretly hoped that Rio bravo would reappear in it's glory in the Buckhead location we all have such great memories of going there with friends and family after baseball games or for birthday parties

In for Din! said...

Please bring back Rio bravo! The soft flour tortilla machine and the cheese dip the best!!!!

Anonymous said...

I was a manager at Buckhead and Powers Ferry. The original menu was the best. To this day I still cannot find Queso or fajita's as good as RB. I hate that I never wrote down the fajita recipe but I was in the front of the house. Very fond memories!!! Closest thing is On the Border. I no longer live in Atlanta but would come back to visit if one opened!!!

Anonymous said...

Please Ray, I have been anxiously awaiting Rio Bravos return since I saw this 2 years ago. Bring it back! Please!!!!!!!!!