The Buenos Ayres Argentinian Bar & Grill, a 21-year resident of the Condado sector in San Juan, will be moving to another familiar location in Punta Las Marías, occupied by the former Che’s restaurant, this media outlet confirmed. The move is slated to happen in December.
The new restaurant will be part of a broader concept, to be called Buenos Ayres Market & Grill that will feature several spaces — a market, a bar, a dining area, a bakery offering typical Argentinian and local products, and a wine cellar — said owner María Marty, whose father, Oscar Marty, opened the original Che’s restaurant that until 2018 was a family favorite, with its Argentinian menu and sprawling dining area.
Buenos Ayres, as well as the former Che’s property, are both owned by Floridita Inc., now headed by entrepreneur Marty, who confirmed that transforming the 6,000 square-foot former Che’s has entailed an investment of nearly $1 million to reopen what she called a “family place.”
“We’re leaving Condado with Buenos Ayres, but we’re opening what will be a new concept for us,” she said, adding the Condado property was sold five years ago, with the condition that it would rent the location until she decided the next steps.
“This new project is something I’ve been dreaming about for 10 years. The majority of the space will be a market, which is a concept that has been very successful in Argentinian restaurants in south Miami. I’m keeping the restaurant area more so because of my clients in Buenos Ayres and the ones that went to Che’s,” Marty said.
The market will feature local goods — which she said will be given priority — as well as imported Argentinian staples. Upon opening, it will have capacity for 180 people.
The bar will offer rum, tequila and whisky cocktails — a first for the iconic location that never ran a liquor area. The menu will offer options such as Argentinian-style pizza, empanadas, cheeses, cold-cuts, and other dishes that will be served at the tables or can be ordered for carry-out, Marty said. However, the concept does not call for waiter service.
The new restaurant has added an outside dining area split between two new terraces that she said will remain “rustic, because the idea is that we will continue to welcome people in Bermuda shorts, recognizing that we’ll be in a beach area. We’re looking to offer quality without compromising your pocket, so we want to offer a relaxed and comfortable space as well. If you want to come straight from your house in flip-flops, it’s ok.”
Che’s restaurant closed in March 2018, when it bid farewell though a message posted on its Facebook page, six months after back-to-back Hurricanes Irma and María struck Puerto Rico in September 2017. The restaurant had been in operation for 40 years, but the property suffered significant damage from flooding, which lasted 12 days after María, among other problems, it stated.
After negotiations, Marty was able to buy the property back from Banco Popular, which had repossessed it. Inside, she found family memorabilia and reminders of Che’s that she said will decorate one of the walls of the bar.
“Everything I was able to rescue that was left there, will be featured to depict ‘El Caminito’ and ‘La Boca’,” she said, confirming that the iconic, orange-colored Che’s moniker that her father etched into the entrance of the restaurant will remain.
The restaurateur also said that as part of the renovation of the Che’s property, she has invested in repairing plumbing and drainage issues, to avoid the possibility of future floods. She said that tropical storm Isaias was the test, and the restaurant passed.
Calavera concept to return as food truck
The new concept will also feature a food truck-type area to bring back its Calavera Mexican Restaurant, which Marty also owned on Loíza Street in Santurce, until its closure earlier this year due to the pandemic. It will feature a select menu offered at the former restaurant.
“It will be called Calavera Express, and will be located in the parking area,” she said, noting that the bar inside Buenos Ayres Market & Grill will feature tequila cocktail recipes offered at the former Calavera.
Although all of the renovations and design are ongoing, Marty said the new project has been slowed down in response to the many effects of the pandemic, including a government-mandated reduction in restaurant capacity and a loss of employees who have opted not to work to receive Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits instead.
Initial plans call for operating the Buenos Ayres Market & Grill with the 21 employees that currently work at Buenos Ayres in Condado, building up to 60 to run the different aspects of the establishment by the end of the year.
“The hope is that by December, we’ll be able to operate at 75% capacity and open on Sunday, and we’ll know by then what will happen with government aid, because that will be decisive on being able to get the staff that I need,” she said.
Eventually, the concept will offer pick-up and free delivery services, as well and a special offer to set up on-site Argentinian grilling services for individual and corporate events. Also in the plans is opening a website featuring its products, Marty said.