BANGOR, Maine — The inside of the former Ninety Nine restaurant was shrouded in wood dust Tuesday as crews listening to a Spanish-language radio station worked to convert it into Bangor’s newest Mexican restaurant.
Eriberto “Eric” Guzman, 32, who will manage the new restaurant called Las Palapas, said he hopes to open his doors in late May or early June.
Carlos Jaime, who owns a small chain of Mexican restaurants in Ohio, including El Meson in Cuyahoga Falls and El Rincon in North Canton and Akron, proposed bringing a new restaurant to Maine, according to Guzman.
Jaime’s company expanded into New England a couple of years ago, when he set up Jalisco in North Conway, N.H. Guzman’s brother works there. The restaurant has performed well, so he looked at other potential New England spots and decided on Bangor.
This restaurant is not tied to a chain of 11 Las Palapas restaurants in Texas. Guzman said lawyers have said there would be no issue with using the name.
The Bangor City Council recently approved the future restaurant’s liquor license and thanked Guzman for coming to the city.
Guzman, born in California, has split much of his life between the United States and Mexico, but has lived in the U.S. for the past 10 years and worked in the restaurant industry for about 12. He and his crew recently got an apartment in Bangor and Guzman said he expects his wife and children to move to Bangor once the restaurant opens. Prior to taking the job in Bangor, Guzman worked for a different restaurant in Illinois.
“We’re going to give a great experience to people,” Guzman said.
Guzman said he expects to hire 20-25 people to start, and will bring in family members and employees from the Ohio and New Hampshire restaurants to help get things set up. After things are up and running, most of those workers will return to their restaurants and new staff will be hired to work in Bangor.
Las Palapas will have some close competition. Miguel’s Mexican Restaurant is just half a mile down Hogan Road and Pepino’s Mexican Restaurant sits along Stillwater Avenue on the opposite side of Bangor Mall. That’s not counting the many large chains around the mall.
Guzman said he believes there’s still plenty of room for another Mexican restaurant in the area. The reason he decided against setting up shop in other locations around Ohio and New England was the concentration of Mexican restaurants. He used the example of Edwardsville, Ill., where he worked up until recently. The city has only a slightly larger population than Bangor, but has eight Mexican restaurants within just a few miles.
Ninety Nine closed its doors in Bangor last September, putting about 40 full- and part-time employees out of work. The building housed Ninety Nine for nearly a decade and was home to a Red Lobster restaurant before that.