One of the Arts District’s newer restaurants is getting a new identity and makeover as a prolific restaurateur enters the Richmond region.
Juan Carrillo has bought a majority stake in Sonora Rooftop & Sports Bar at 11 W. Broad St. and is converting it into Juan’s Cantina and Rooftop, a similar concept to four other restaurants he owns throughout Hampton Roads.
LX Group opened Sonora in late 2020, adding it to its portfolio of local restaurants including Nama, Switch Pop-Up Bar, Kabana Rooftop and Belle & James.
LX Group co-owners Neal Patel and Kunal Shah opened Monroe Rooftop in Hampton last summer, and it was there that they met Carrillo through a mutual friend.
Patel said they’d been considering making changes at Sonora, but meeting Carrillo and visiting his restaurants helped push them toward the deal.
“With COVID and as challenging as the labor market has been, we’d decided that we wanted to look to partner with somebody who’s more than a chef in the kitchen,” Patel said. “It was important to us that we wanted to bring someone in at an ownership level.”
A restaurateur of over 15 years, Carrillo has gradually planted his namesake restaurants throughout Hampton, Newport News and Gloucester. He said he’d been eyeing Richmond but had some reservations.
“I wanted to be in the Richmond area, but I was always a little hesitant. I started to do a little research and saw the building and thought it was really unique,” Carrillo said of the Sonora space. “The rooftop level, I loved. I feel like I’m in Chicago or L.A. with that type of vibe. That’s really what drew me in.”
The two parties finalized the deal in early January for an undisclosed amount. Patel and Shah retained a minority stake in the restaurant.
It’s not the first time LX Group looked outside its organization for help running the food side of the business. In 2020, it tapped Soul Taco to handle the food at Kabana Rooftop.
The menu at Juan’s Cantina and Rooftop will vary by level. The rooftop will have mostly lighter fare like tacos and burritos, while the downstairs dining room will have a full menu similar to Carrillo’s other restaurants.
Carrillo said his most popular dishes are those which include birria, a type of tender, shredded beef that’s often served with consommé. Carrillo pointed to his birria quesadilla, as well as his birria ramen soup.
“It’s amazing, especially right now with the cold weather,” Carrillo said of the soup. “Or if you’re hungover, that’s like No. 1. Put a little jalapeno in there? And an ice cold beer with a shot on the side? Man, you’re good.”
He said they’ll also prepare some things like tacos and guacamole table-side.
“We do it to make it fun, make it an experience and where you want to come to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, divorces, whatever,” Carrillo said, laughing.
Sonora recently closed down to transition into Juan’s, a process Carrillo and Patel estimate will take about a month.
“We have to retrofit it for the way that our kitchen works and our bar works,” Carrillo said. “It’s mainly replacing some equipment. Unfortunately things are not coming in as fast as they used to.”
Carrillo said he’s excited to open in this part of Virginia and further develop Juan’s menu.
“I feel like I can get away with some cool, eclectic stuff in Richmond,” he said.
Love Juan’s in Gloucester but I will say it again, how many Mexican restaurants can any neighborhood support.