North Texas Daily

Café Herrera fuses tradition with modernity

Café Herrera fuses tradition with modernity

Café Herrera fuses tradition with modernity
March 27
01:25 2014

Obed Manuel // Senior Staff Writer

Jason Marquez excitedly looks on as an elderly couple makes their way down the long corridor at 100 W. Oak St.

“This is my favorite part,” Marquez says with a smile on his face.

Marquez gets up from his seat and walks over to the couple. He greets them and informs them that Café Herrera will officially open on March 28.

Maybe it’s a good sign for the restaurant, because this kind of interaction is a regular occurrence as its owners gear up for the formal opening of their fourth restaurant after spending more than a year renovating the historic space on the Denton Square.

Marquez, who will manage the Denton location with his cousin Gil Bonifaz, said he was brought in to manage the location after spending more than eight years working outside the family business.

“I hope they’re happy right now,” Marquez said. “I hope they’re happy with how things are working out.”

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The history

The first Herrera’s restaurant opened in 1971 in Dallas with a cozy, nine-table locale. Amelia Herrera, Bonifaz said, wanted to give her family something that would keep the family together and maintain its traditions.

Family members from different generations currently work at the three Dallas locations.

“It’s a good way to stay close with the family and that’s what it was all about. That’s the whole reason why my great-grandmother started it,” Bonifaz said. “She wanted to leave something behind for her kids. That was her goal and that’s what I try and do nowadays.”

Nancy Nichols, food and travel editor for D Magazine, writes that Herrera’s homey style is what made the Herrera tradition so popular in Dallas.

“The food hasn’t changed much. The list of combination plates is longer, but a No. 10 (guacamole tostada, cheese enchilada, cheese taco) and a No. 2B (two enchiladas smothered with bubbling chili con queso, rice and beans) taste just as they did in 1971,” Nichols writes.

The distinguishing factor between this location and the original, Bonifaz said, is the modern, more chic presentation. But that does not mean the traditional recipes will be discarded.

“We’re not trying to go high-end by any means, because it’s still Tex-Mex,” Bonifaz said. “We don’t want to be a mom and pop on the corner, but we also don’t want to be fine dining.”


Different to Denton

The new location will feature several aspects that are unusual to the family’s other restaurants, including an upstairs VIP room (nicknamed the “Green Room”), a selection of beers on tap and a discount menu for college students.

Bonifaz said the restaurant’s bar will also serve specialty margaritas, a feature only available at the Café Herrera on Mockingbird Station in Dallas. The other two restaurants serve beer and margaritas but not specially crafted ones.

Marquez said Café Herrera will also feature a small viewing room where customers will be able to see kitchen workers preparing the dough for freshly made flour tortillas.

“I want people to see how we make them,” Marquez said. “That extra flair will make people come out and say, ‘That’s the place where they make the tortillas right in front of you.’”

The delay

Bonifaz said the restaurant was originally planned to open in September 2013, but the first contractor did not complete the project according to schedule.

“We would have a month of work and they would take a month off. It was a real mess,” Bonifaz said. “Unfortunately, we lost a lot of time because of that.”

Bonifaz had to call in Complete Construction Group in November 2013 to not only finish the renovation but also redo some of the original work done by the previous contractor.

Bonifaz also said the renovation plans had to follow the city of Denton’s preservation standards.

“Any changes we made and plans we had, they were very meticulous on reviewing those because they didn’t want to compromise the historic value of the building.” Bonifaz said. “I wouldn’t want that [either], because it’s one of the coolest aspects of the building.”


Close to opening

Upon walking into the restaurant, customers walk down a narrow corridor with maroon walls. To the left, a collection of photos that chronicle the history of Herrera’s cover the walls.

The location uses the generous amount of light that filters through the tall windows facing Locust Street.

At the end of the corridor is the general dining area that can fit a maximum of 200 people.

Interior design senior Carmel Quemado said she applied to work at Café Herrera back in January and that so far she has no complaints working for the Herrera family. The owners have welcomed her and other employees as one of their own.

“It’s like a family and I’ve already gotten really close to my co-workers,” Quemado said. “I’m really excited to work here and be friends with everybody.”

After so much delay, Bonifaz said he and Marquez are ready to take on the challenge of opening up in Denton. All that’s left is to feed hungry Dentonites.

“In any opening, I’m always cautiously optimistic,” Bonifaz said. “I hope and I feel that the people of Denton will like what we do and enjoy our food.”

Top photo: Cafe Herrera will open on the Denton Square on March 28. It is the fourth restaurant from Herrera’s family. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer

Center photo: Operations manager Jason Marquez, mixologist Bryan Burnam and owner Gil Bonifaz behind the bar at Cafe Herrera. The bar will serve a selection of tequila-based cocktails. Photo by Obed Manuel / Senior Staff Writer

Bottom photo:Cafe Herrera provided free margaritas and food at a private event on Saturday night to celebrate the new opening. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer

Feature photo: Bartender at Cafe Herrera John Baker makes a margarita for guests on Saturday night. Photo by Zixian Chen / Senior Staff Photographer

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