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Four years after the original owners sold the El Mirador restaurant, the San Antonio staple of family-style Mexican cuisine has changed hands again and will close its doors Nov. 18 to make way for a new eatery sometime in 2019.
Lisa Wong, owner of Rosario’s restaurants in Southtown and on the North Side, purchased the property from Esquire Tavern owner Chris Hill for more than $3 million and said she remains in the brainstorming phase when it comes to what will fill the space in the future.
The sale marks the end of a King William institution that once was known for its family recipes and ownership and as a meeting place for San Antonio business and civic leaders.
Wong said the South St. Mary’s Street location will host a restaurant of some kind, but the deal came together “fast and furious” and she hasn’t spent much time conceiving a plan yet.
“I just want to make sure that I create a space that is appealing to the neighborhood and to the city of San Antonio,” said Wong, who also manages and operates San Antonio’s River Walk barge concession.
The purchase includes nearly one acre of land including four lots, the restaurant building, a 2,000-square-foot garden house, and parking lots at 722 S. St. Mary’s St.
Wong said she plans to take her time to develop the right concept and also satisfy the requirements of the King William Historic District when it comes to any new construction or renovations that will be needed. She said she lives in the area and considers it home. She doesn’t have a target date for an opening.
“You know, it is designated an historic neighborhood and there is just always hurdles that you have to work through,” Wong said. “I want to do it right. There is no reason to rush it.”
Hill, an architect and developer, purchased El Mirador in 2014 from Julian Treviño, the son of original owners Julian Sr. and Mary Treviño, and his wife, Diana. Hill closed the space in 2016 for renovations before reopening in December of that year.
The restaurant first opened in 1967 as the city anticipated HemisFair ’68. It moved several times but established itself as a local landmark after relocating to its current home in 1978.
Wong said she appreciates the history of El Mirador, the Treviño family’s legacy, and the restaurant’s loyal customers.
Julian Treviño and his wife were in Madrid, Spain, on Wednesday in the middle of an extended vacation when they heard of the sale and closing of what was the family business for years.
“It’s not bad news,” he said in a phone interview. “We went through the angst and emotions that are associated with selling something with 45 years of family history almost five years ago when we made the decision to sell it to Chris Hill. It was a family decision, so we went through all that. There was a question of loyalty to our employees and our customers. That was paramount. Chris Hill kept his word and that was admirable. I admire him for that.”
Many of the restaurant’s employees have worked there serving a menu of Treviño family recipes for decades. Treviño said he might feel differently about the newest sale and the restaurant closing if it had been run into the ground.
“If it had deteriorated and imploded and people said, ‘This is horrible,’ and that sort of thing, that would have hurt. We wish Lisa great success.”
In May 2014, when the restaurant changed hands the first time, Rivard Report Editor and Publisher Robert Rivard described the impact the restaurant had as a meeting place for some of San Antonio’s best-known faces during its heyday:
“The South St. Mary’s Street landmark cafe was the place to be and to be seen weekday mornings in King William long before the advent of Southtown. Saturday mornings brought droves of ’09ers and others to El Mirador for the cafe’s signature Sopa Azteca. At one recent breakfast outing there, I saw Mayor Julián Castro in one room, and former Mayors Phil Hardberger, Howard Peak, and Ed Garza, all at different tables, meeting with people.”
Hill’s attention has been drawn in recent months toward developing a 22-story Canopy Hilton hotel at Commerce and St. Mary’s streets next to the Esquire, which sits at at 155 E. Commerce St.
In addition to owning the two Rosario’s locations, Wong also owns Ácenar on Houston Street downtown.