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Antigua to offer ‘something that hasn’t been done here’

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Saúl and Joanna Aguilar plan to open their new restaurant, Antigua, in a couple of weeks to feature traditional recipes from the country of Mexico. Renovations of the former Tia Juana’s location to create an atmosphere reminiscent of Mexico’s culture have been occurring since May. (Lisa Dunlap Photo)

[This post has been updated to correct the spelling of the name of the restaurant.]

A couple who own a well-known restaurant in Roswell will soon open a second establishment, but this one with a different concept, from food to service to ambiance.

“I am excited to show people what else we can do,” said Saúl Aguilar. “It isn’t about rice or beans or red chile or green chile.”

Aguilar and his wife, Joanna, are within a couple of weeks of launching Antigua, an upscale, authentic Mexico-style restaurant with a full-service bar to be located at 3601 N. Main St.

In addition to other business holdings in the city, including ownership of the former Ginsberg Music Co. building at the corner of North Main and Second streets, the Aguilars are the proprietors of Los Cerritos Mexican Kitchen. That restaurant, about 10 blocks south of Antigua at 2103 N. Main St., opened in 2009.

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Since May, the Aguilars have been renovating the former Tia Juana’s restaurant to create their new concept. They’ve also been hiring and training about 35 staff and testing recipes.

Aguilar said that Antigua, a “classic” or “antique” kitchen, will offer the Roswell diner something other restaurants don’t, authentic food from the country of Mexico, as well as tequila- and liquor-based drinks.

This won’t be about burritos, chimichangas or tacos with lettuce and cheese, he said. The food will be based on classic recipes from various states of Mexico, cooked using traditional methods, featuring steaks, hormone-free chicken, duck and seafood, and natural ingredients and spices.

“A lot of what we call Mexican food has a lot of Texas influence, New Mexico (influence), combined with what Mexican food is,” said Aguilar. “We are trying to stay true to the culture and stay true to the classic recipes. I am not saying that we are better than anyone else. We just want to try something that hasn’t been done here.”

It won’t just be what is on the plate that will evoke Mexico, if the Aguilars succeed in their vision. The décor includes folk art and booth benches from Mexico and some chandeliers made from tequila bottles. Service also will be about traditional Mexican culture, he said, from servers dressed more formally and offering to take people’s coats or to provide standing hangars at tables for purses.

He said he has been asked a lot why he and his wife would want to bring another Mexican restaurant to the city, but he said he is enthused about offering the public a different dining and food experience. Although he has spent his life in restaurants as the son of restaurant owners, he also has done research the past two or three years visiting restaurants in Mexico with an eye to what he could bring back to Roswell.

The restaurant, to seat about 240, is expected to be open weekdays and Saturdays starting at 4 p.m., with Sunday brunches and catering expected to be added later as the restaurant establishes itself.

“The ones who do know that we are coming from Los Cerritos, it is going to be a completely different menu,” he said. “We’ve put a lot of money into remodeling. It has taken a lot of time and hard work. We are just hoping that someone can find and appreciate what we have done here.”

Documents filed with the New Mexico Regulation and Licensing Division indicated that Tia Juana’s was owned by people whose corporate address is in Artesia. Tia Juana’s Facebook page indicated that the restaurant in Roswell had operated for 18 years before closing in April. A Hobbs location remains open.

Saúl Aguilar formed JAKS Holdings LLC in September, which then purchased the Antigua property at 3601 N. Main St, according to state documents.

The restaurant industry in New Mexico continues to grow, but at a moderate pace, according to statistics from the National Restaurant Association. Gross revenues from 3,334 establishments in the state totaled about $3.4 billion in 2017. That compares to 3,262 establishments in 2012 and 2014 revenues of $3.2 billion. Restaurants employed 95,800 people in 2017, a workforce that is expected to grow to 103,600 by 2028.

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.