Lovers of authentic Mexican food and art will have to look elsewhere than Danvers now with the news that Tio Juan’s Margaritas Mexican Restaurant has abandoned plans to open a chain location off Endicott Street at the home of the former Crab House Restaurant.
Town Manager Wayne Marquis said prior to the Board of Selectmen meeting Tuesday night that he was aware of the news. His understanding was that Margaritas was “tightening its belt” amid corporate restructuring and forgoing plans to open new locations.
The restaurant chain had planned to open a 180-seat cantina at 182 Endicott St. and replace the existing décor with authentic pieces shipped in from Mexico to the tune of $1 million. The town had approved a site plan and Margaritas was still going through the review process with the Conservation Commission and Planning Board as recently as last month.
Town officials said that due to the town being unaware of a change in staff, the correct representative for Margaritas was not notified in enough time to appear last night. Jeffrey Gouchberg of Harbor Management was on hand, however, to share the news with selectmen and inform them the property owner is now in talks with three other potential tenants for a restaurant at the site.
“We thought it best…if we brought you up to date,” said Gouchberg, later acknowledging he also sought to head off any action by the board to contemplate revoking the license.
Three other restaurants vying for license
According to Gouchberg, his firm is in negotiations with Margaritas to transfer its liquor license to whichever of the three parties signs a lease.
He said that while not having the same name-recognition as Margaritas, any of the three should be familiar to area residents. He declined to elaborate further.
Gouchberg said the new tenant would hope to open within six months.
“I appreciate them reaching out and telling us what’s going on rather than us having to drag them in,” said Selectman Keith Lucy, who was contacted by Harbor Management after Christmas with the news. His colleagues shared those sentiments and thanked Gouchberg and Peter Bazzinotti, who also appeared on behalf of the property owner, the Anna Mscisz Trust.
Gouchberg did not mention a sale price on the full liquor license, but Margaritas did pay Sally Loh $200,000 for it in 2009. Loh owned the Crab House and leased the property until she was forced to sell or lose the liquor license that spring.
The Salem News reported at the time that despite Loh’s attempts to obtain an entertainment license, selectmen revoked the liquor license, citing a “lack of serving the public good” as the alcohol license went unused, the Crab House was closed for the summer and Loh was unable to produce liquor purchase receipts. The revocation was rescinded, however, as selectmen agreed to let Loh sell the restaurant and transfer the alcohol license by that April.
Now, Margaritas has sat on the alcohol license for a year-and-a-half. All told, the license hasn’t been used for three or four years, according to selectmen.
Gouchberg and Bazzinotti said they should have a non-binding letter of intent from one of the interested parties next week and a lease agreement within 45 days after that.
“We think inside of 90 days someone will be filing an application [to transfer the license],” said Bazzinotti.
Lucy added that he was made aware Margaritas hasn’t yet paid rent on the property lease while the project has been in limbo. Gouchberg didn’t contradict that assessment.
“It’s been a black hole for a while now, in terms of license utilization,” said Selectman Michael Powers.
“It’s too good a location to sit idle,” added Selectman Bill Clark.
The board agreed to call Margaritas back for a status update in April if no applications were filed before then. Selectman Dan Bennett voted “no,” however, saying he wanted Margaritas back within 30 days regardless.