The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


November 12, 2011

Ethnic expansion: Rey Azteca owners opening new Richland location

— They are calling it El Jalisco.

But owners of a popular Mexican restaurant in Johnstown could just as easily have named it Rey Azteca II.

That’s because Rey Azteca’s operator, Gustavo Palacios, is planning to open a new Mexican restaurant at 212 College Park Plaza in Richland Township that will feature a nearly identical menu – and even some of the Scalp restaurant’s cooks – at a new location.

“(Gustavo) Palacios didn’t like the idea of just adding a number to Rey Azteca ... He wanted something different,” said Mary Foust, a Rey Azteca manager, noting the new restaurant is being named after a coastal Mexican state.

The idea, she said, is to offer the existing restaurant’s style of service – and popular dishes such as burritos supreme, chicken and cheese flautas and their sizzling fajitas – at a second, more spacious environment.

Plans calls for a more “open, cozy” layout in the approximately, 4,000-square-foot site. Foust said it will feature arched ceilings and hand-carved wooden booths from Mexico.

The family’s existing Geistown restaurant will continue to operate, she said.

Their original Rey Azteca location opened in 2005 in a site that formerly housed another Mexican restaurant, and before that Pizza Hut, on Scalp Avenue.

Mexican restaurants have come and gone on the Scalp corridor in the past decade – with Cozumel Mexican Restaurant opening in the former Chi-Chi’s site in University Park Plaza and then closing a year later.

But Rey Azteca has thrived in Geistown, Foust said, and other locations since have opened in Somerset and State College.

She noted the customer demand for the eatery’s authentic Mexican fare created a need for a second location.

“On weekends and evenings, we’re usually very busy,” she said. “At times, it’s very crowded.”

Palacios understands that the crowded atmosphere probably turns a few passers-by away when they see lines and a crowded parking lot, Foust added.

Parking shouldn’t be a problem at the new location, she added, noting College Park Plaza features a large lot.

Work is already under way at the new location, which formerly housed a local law firm.

A sign is already up on the shopfront, while workers have been busy in recent days on interior work.

If all goes well, El Jalisco will open in time for the new year, Foust said. They plan to eventually seek a liquor license for the second location to serve margaritas and beer.

Plans for the new restaurant come despite the recent closings of two other Johnstown-area eating spots.

El Rancho Steak House in Lower Yoder Township’s Westwood section closed on Nov. 6.

The restaurant and lounge had been in business since 1974.

Audi’s Olde World Restaurant and Lounge at Johnstown’s airport in Richland Township also shut its doors in recent weeks.

Audi’s had been in business since the fall of 2010.

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