Tequila-centric Madero’s opens in former Casa Rustica space


Over the past three years, a prime corner restaurant space in the Village at Pacific Highlands Ranch center has turned over three times. But the owners of its latest tenant, Madero’s Mexican Tequila Bar, say they’re here to stay.

Madero’s opened May 5 in the 4,200-square-foot restaurant space formerly occupied by upscale Crudo by Pascal Lorange, which was open for a year, and later by Casa Rustica, a casual Mexican restaurant that closed after just four months in business.

But new operator, Empress Capital Investments, isn’t daunted at all by the space’s track record. In fact, Empress Chief Operating Officer Joey Peña said the property fits right in with the fast-growing restaurant company’s business plan.

“Our business model is to come upon brands or restaurants that are failing and, with our restaurant management software, we can come in and help turn them around,” Peña said. “Or if they’ve failed and want out, we can purchase them from the owners at a discounted rate and implement our style, menu and decor. That way, we don’t have to build a restaurant from the ground up.”

Empress Capital, named after the fast-growing empress royal trees of China, was launched in 2017 by Peña and founder and managing partner James Langley, who has a background in commercial real estate and is a co-founder of San Diego-based Resident Brewing Co. They work closely with Langley’s brother, Fred, a Phoenix-based restaurant industry consultant to identify new properties.

Their properties include Wokou Noodles & Pours, which opened in the Village at Pacific Highlands in 2017, and California Native in Del Mar, which opened six months ago in the former Rimel’s Rotisserie space in Del Mar Highlands. Madero’s is their third concept.

Named for Mexico’s famed revolutionary-turned-president Francisco Madero, Madero’s is a 150-seat restaurant serving traditional Mexican food and a tequila menu that’s now at 75 varieties and growing. The menu, developed by chef Cesar Reyes, features entrees like chicken flautas, fajitas and pollo asada priced from $12 to $14. There are also a fewer higher-end seafood dishes priced from $26 to $28.

The bar menu offers a variety of margarita flights and cocktails, including the house special, the Organic, made with all-organic ingredients.

As part of the interior remodel, Empress tore down the wall between the main dining room and an adjacent quick-service space that had never been occupied. The company also hired a muralist to create an original Mexican revolutionary design on the back walls.

Peña pointed to two reasons that restaurants in the space may have not been successful in the past. One is that the area around the center is still under construction, so business operators there need to be patient.

“We saw this as an up-and-coming mall; it’s not a quick fix,” Peña said. “We can’t come in and strike oil. We have to build our roots, get our foundation solid and watch development over the next five years. We’re here for the long haul, not the short term.”

The second, and most important factor, Peña said, was listening closely to what the community wanted. Residents in the area told Empress they wanted a traditional Mexican restaurant with quality ingredients. Since opening last month, Peña said they have listened to diners’ suggestions and made tweaks to the menu for different salsa, chips, plating, prices and styles of margaritas. The menu continues to be fine-tuned with the goal of officially launching the final product at a grand opening on June 24.

“We put our ears to the ground and we listened to what they really wanted and we think we’re delivering that now,” Peña said.

Madero’s Mexican Tequila Bar

Hours: Noon to 9 p.m. Sundays-Thursdays; noon to midnight Fridays and Saturdays. Happy hour, 4-6 p.m. daily.
Where: The Village at Pacific Highlands, E-107, 5965 Village Way, San Diego.