DOVER — Downtown’s newest restaurant has opened in a familiar spot for longtime residents.
At the corner of Loockerman and Bradford streets, the family-owned La Hacienda is now sporting its third location in the state and second in the capital city. Owner and operator Carlos Estrada is thrilled about the prospects of his newest establishment, which opened earlier this month.
“When you’re downtown, it definitely creates a different atmosphere, a different vibe,” he said. “Downtown areas tend to be coming back.”
For Mr. Estrada and many others, the hope is that La Hacienda can succeed and last, unlike the previous restaurant that occupied the Harrington Realty Inc.-managed property.
Last fall, Rebel Cove Grill — based in Middletown — ceased operations at the Dover location, after having just opened in June 2021. The pandemic and internal struggles both played a role, according to Downtown Dover Partnership operations manager Tina Bradbury.
Prior to Rebel Cove, 33 West Ale House & Grill operated business at the property, but that longtime and popular venture shut down in November 2020 for COVID-19 restrictions and never returned.
La Hacienda’s other Dover location, right off Del. 1 and next to Dover Air Force Base, has been open since 2015. The eatery then expanded with a second establishment in downtown Milford.
“They have a big stake here in Dover; they also have experience in being downtown with their Milford location,” Ms. Bradbury said. “I think they have what it takes to be a downtown presence.”
In combination with such background, Mr. Estrada also mentioned several qualities he is focused on that he hopes will help the location thrive, including product consistency.
“One of the biggest killers of small mom-and-pop restaurants is consistency,” he said. “If you have an experience here and love the taco salad, the taco salad should taste the same in Dover and Milford.”
To help achieve that consistency, Mr. Estrada’s mother, Antonia Estrada, has been working in the kitchen for quality-assurance purposes. Mr. Estrada originally opened the first restaurant with his father, who has since taken a background role. But his mother remains involved heavily as a cook.
In fact, it is Ms. Estrada’s homestyle cooking that has inspired many of the restaurant’s Mexican dishes. Around half of the offerings stem from that foundation.
“You can get a fajita anywhere, but you can’t get my mom’s cooking at Applebee’s,” Mr. Estrada said. “We usually try to get what she cooks and create different dishes with that.”
Hearing back about a liquor license took longer than expected, delaying the restaurant’s opening to June. But with extra time to plan and train employees, Mr. Estrada deemed the start the most successful he has ever experienced.
“I was really surprised of how busy it is,” he said. “We do have a really good lunch crowd and happy-hour crowd. People within the neighborhood are coming in to support us.”
The restaurant was able to avoid an overwhelming opening-day crowd, as they did not host a ribbon-cutting. Opening was also less stressful because of some leftover equipment, Mr. Estrada said.
With the downtown location’s doors open, Ms. Estrada’s cooking and unique drinks like the scorpion margarita are being spread to new customers, a goal La Hacienda is continuously chasing.
Mr. Estrada said expansion in Delaware is always on his mind. But with a new spot to focus on, he wants La Hacienda to help revive the downtown scene, which includes a number of empty buildings on Loockerman Street.
Current or potential restaurants and businesses are not viewed as competitors but rather as partners in the bigger picture.
“The more, the merrier. If we get a lot of these ‘For Lease’ signs off of those windows and get more people down here, it would change the dynamic of what it is to be in downtown Dover.”