Mexican restaurant Rio Grande moves for the first time since 1999

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After 23 years in the same space, Rio Grande Mexican Restaurant in Denver is preparing to move and lose weight.

Owner Pat McGaughran is preparing to move the restaurant, which has been at 1525 Blake St. since 1999, to Morton’s former space at 1745 Wazee St. He bought the unit there last summer for 3.8 million of dollars.

The new space is approximately 8,400 square feet, compared to 11,000 square feet on Blake Street.

“We’ve been working hard to stay relevant in the LoDo zone this whole time,” McGaughran said. “That being said, the building is huge. We have three bars, a 5,000 square foot patio and upstairs space. As you can imagine, the human capacity it takes to operate a facility like this on a busy day and to be able to downshift on less busy days is a lot of work with it.

McGaughran opened the first Rio Grande in Fort Collins in 1986 and now has five locations between there and Lone Tree.

McGaughran hopes to reopen the Rio Grande location in Denver in the new 8,400 square foot space in mid-May. The Blake Street location will remain open until then.

“The opportunity to completely own our own real estate was very appealing because I can now control the cost of occupancy,” McGaughran said. “It was a risk. But if you’re in the restaurant business, you’re in the risk business. This is what we do.

He told BusinessDen he was investing around $1.3 million to revamp the space with a new look and hired Broomfield-based R3 Design Architecture and Shike Design to bring the vision to life.

“We actually had elaborate plans to renovate the Blake Street space, but we were going to have to move and close for months at a time, which would cause a problem,” McGaughran said. “It’s a plan we’ve had in the works for a number of years and we’ve just felt that a new location can solve a number of issues we struggle with, such as the volatility of multiple floors.”

McGaughran is part of the investor group that owns the current Blake Street real estate in Rio Grande. He said the group had found a new tenant, which he declined to disclose.

McGaughran also owns the Rio Grande real estate in Greeley and co-owns the real estate at its Lone Tree location.

Since 2018, he’s been renovating the regional chain’s locations with a more contemporary look, including in Boulder and Fort Collins, which was hit by a fire last July.

“We don’t change what we do; we might be changing the floor and the format of the space a bit, but what you’re going to get is what people know and love about the Rio,” McGaughran said.

Although he said it was nerve-wracking to leave the familiar Denver space, the restaurateur is ready for a change.

“LoDo has seen massive change over the past 20 years, and we want to change with it,” McGaughran said. “But we are committed to staying in the area and we are putting our money where our mouth is. I’ve been there for almost 37 years now, and it feels right to reinvest in the business without fear.

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