KEARNEY — On a recent Saturday night, Margaritas co-owner Hugo Munoz moved from table to table, joking and talking with customers.
At one point he pretended to trip while he carried several hot plates of Mexican food. As he steadied himself, customers laughed at his shenanigans.
The jokes are a way for Munoz to make customers feel welcome at Kearney’s newest Mexican restaurant.
“We are so excited for everything. We try to make the people feel like home, family,” he said. “That’s why we try to do many jokes.”
The Colorado-based Mexican restaurant opened its 24th location on Oct. 18 in Kearney. Munoz and his former boss Francisco Garvan decided to establish a restaurant at 119 Third Ave., near Kearney’s hotel district, after a visit from the building owner and Kearney real estate agent, Brett Weis. Garvan said Weis liked the food at Margaritas in Fort Collins and asked him if he would like to start a restaurant in Kearney.
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“So we decide to come and look at it,” Garvan said. “We really like Brett and his wife.”
The building was once home to several other Mexican restaurants — Carlos O’Kelly’s, El Limon and most recently, Agave Azul.
So how is Margaritas different than other restaurants?
Munoz said Margaritas is family.
Garvan’s uncles, Manuel and Nicolas Morales, started Margaritas in Kirkland, Wash., in 1979. Garvan then opened the first restaurant in Colorado in 1998.
The Fort Collins business “was a big success,” Garvan said. “It was really, really good.”
Garvan’s uncles followed him to Colorado, sold almost everything in Washington and the family continued to open new restaurants in the state. Today, the family operates 20 Margaritas restaurants in Colorado and has continued to move east into Nebraska from Sidney, Ogallala, North Platte and now to Kearney.
Munoz said because Margaritas is a family-run business, the Mexican recipes are shared among the restaurant chefs.
“He (Nicolas Morales) got these recipes from families in Mexico,” Munoz said. “It’s very authentic Mexican food.”
Garvan said Margaritas also focuses on serving fresh ingredients in their made-from-scratch dishes.
“Most of the places, they usually cook rice and beans for the whole week, sometimes three days. They just put it in the cooler,” Garvan said. “Our rice and beans and most of the salsas is cooked twice a day for lunch and dinner.”
The restaurant creates from scratch sauces for entrées, such as enchiladas and burritos, and dressings for salads They also freshly make their mango and strawberry margaritas, which are blended with chunks of mangoes and strawberries.
The margaritas, the restaurant’s namesake, are “really popular,” Garvan said.
Garvan and Munoz helped to develop drinks with a variety of flavors such as jalapeño, cucumber and blackberry with Angry Orchard.
Along with their colorful dishes and congenial personalities, the owners brought a fun decorative flair to the restaurant space.
They painted the walls in mango and lime colors, and added a large tile backsplash behind the bar. Playful light fixtures and ornaments, such as cacti and tropical birds, hang from the ceiling over tables and chairs painted in Mexican-themed scenes.
Garvan and Munoz bought the colorful tables and chairs from Mexico, as well as large original paintings to adorn the walls of the restaurant.
So far, people in Kearney have been receptive to the new restaurant, according to Garvan.
“A lot of people they know about our food. A lot of (other) people, they came for the first time and they really liked it,” Garvan said. “We had really good comments about the drinks, and our food and service. So, it’s been good.”