Mexican restaurant to fill former La Grotta space

Mijas, a fine Mexican restaurant, is set to go into the former La Grotta Ristorante at 1218 E. Cary St. in Shockoe Slip. (J. Elias O'Neal)

Mijas, a fine Mexican restaurant, is set to go into the former La Grotta Ristorante at 1218 E. Cary St. in Shockoe Slip. (J. Elias O’Neal)

A Shockoe Bottom restaurateur is staking his claim in Shockoe Slip with a new concept that will take over the former longtime home of a local Italian eatery.

Mijas, an upscale Mexican eatery by local restaurateur Carlos Londoño, will soon fill the roughly 4,500 square feet at 1218 E. Cary St. that until recently was occupied by La Grotta Ristorante.

La Grotta moved out on July 2 after 22 years in the Slip in favor of new digs in the Miller & Rhoads building at 529 E. Broad St. downtown.

Londoño, who has owned Margarita’s Cantina at 103 N. 18th St. for six years, said he began discussing the idea of leasing the space after learning that La Grotta owners Antonio and Andrea Capece were planning to relocate to a larger location.

The Queens, New York native who also operates two restaurants in the Big Apple, flew into town to meet with the Capeces and he was sold.

Carlos Londono (right) with his wife, Adrienne, is the owner and operator of Mijas, which is set to open in October. (J. Elias O'Neal)

Carlos Londono (right) with his wife, Adrienne, is the owner and operator of Mijas, which is set to open in October. (J. Elias O’Neal)

“I was interested in the location and they were more than happy to show us the building,” Londoño said.

Robert Heim, a commercial broker with  Bandazian & Company  who has worked with Londoño for over six years, represented Mijas in the leasing deal. Amy de Venoge, and her brother Charles Bice with Richmond-based SECAM Inc., represented the landlord.

Mijas is targeting an Oct. 15 debut, Londoño said. He’ll invest about $200,000 of his own money into his newest venture. He’ll plan to initially hire about 15 people.

Londoño said he was drawn to the Slip’s collection of hotels and businesses.

“I love everything about this neighborhood,” he said. “You’ve got so much going on here…between the hotels, the other restaurants, all the visitors and the concept I plan to bring there, we’re going to be successful.”

Mijas – a play on the Spanish phrase mis and hijas, which means my daughters – is a tribute to Londoño’s children, Sofia, 8, and Viviana, 3, along with his Colombian roots.

Long before launching his first bar and restaurant in New York, Londoño’s father, Alfonso, owned the famed Cavalier Restaurant and Lounge, a fixture in Queen’s Jackson Heights neighborhood since the 1950s, before closing it a few years ago.

Londoño described the Cavalier as a place where a traveling movie star or singer would grab a seat at the bar and a healthy helping of food before the next gig or scene.

“You name it, we served them,” Londoño recalled. “Willie Mays, Joe Torre, Barry White, Tony Bennett, Carroll O’Connor would come there. My dad poured his heart and soul into that restaurant…I guess it stuck.”

The family business also extends to Londoño’s twin brother, Alfonso “Al” Jr., who owns the Looking Glass, a music venue in Brooklyn.

Back in Richmond, Londoño said his new Slip restaurant will serve authentic Mexican cuisines, including freshly made tableside guacamole, chicken and beef mole dishes, and a full bar for mixed drinks.

“Margarita’s Cantina is one concept, but this is going to be a totally different experience,” he said. “It’s going to have white table cloths, more refined options…it’s going to be more upscale because this neighborhood commands it.”

And Mijas may just be the beginning.

Londoño said he plans to open two additional restaurants in the Richmond area – all with different concepts, possibly including an Irish Pub.

“This is home,” Londoño said. “My wife, Adrienne, is from Richmond; my children are attending school in the area…this is my home and I want people to be impressed with Mijas.”

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