When La Cabanita Restaurant opened its doors on Ogden Avenue in Brookfield 10 years ago, Mexican restaurants were few and far between. That’s no longer the case. During the summer, Las Asadas opened up in the old Bambino’s space a half-mile down the road at Prairie Avenue, joining a growing number of Mexican eateries up and down Ogden Avenue.
As a response, La Cabanita may begin an expansion project that would add another 1,500 square feet onto its original location and include a complete interior and exterior makeover. But first, the Village of Brookfield needs to grant the restaurant a liquor license.
It’s something the village has been loathe to do, despite what manager Miguel Villasenor called a five-year effort to get one.
“They turned us down,” Villasenor said, explaining the restaurant’s experience going back five years. “They told us they were not giving anymore out.”
Most recently, the restaurant applied for a liquor license in 2004, but never received word on any progress.
However, the roadblock looks to have been finally cleared.
During its Sept. 12 meeting, the Brookfield village board appeared clearly in favor of granting La Cabanita a Class 5 liquor license, which would allow the restaurant to serve wine and beer.
“They’ve always been at community events like Oktoberfest and Brookfest,” said Trustee Alan Dorobiala. “It’s time for the community to work with them.”
With a clear majority of trustees expressing a favorable opinion, the board is expected to vote to increase the number of Class 5 liquor licenses at its Sept. 26 meeting. The village’s liquor commissioner, Village President Michael Garvey, indicated he would grant the license if the board OKs the creation of the additional license.
Garvey explained that Raphael Villasenor, the restaurant’s owner, filed an application for a liquor license in September 2004 and had paid a $500 application fee on Oct. 1, 2004. The village cashed the check, but the application request was never brought before the village board.
“We don’t know what happened,” said Miguel Villasenor. “But we weren’t getting any straight answers.”
Apparently there may have been some concern about the legality of granting a liquor license to a business within 100 feet of a church. The New Life Baptist Church stands just to the east of the restaurant.
But according to the state statute, which mirror’s the village’s statute, a liquor license can be granted to a business where alcohol sales are secondary, such as at a restaurant.
For whatever reason, La Cabanita’s liquor license request languished in village hall until it was brought to Garvey’s attention.
“As soon as I became aware of it, I wanted to [put it up for board discussion] as soon as possible,” Garvey said. “I think they got jerked around.”
Garvey indicated that the board appears to be open to creating more liquor licenses for restaurants rather than for taverns. The board in recent months has granted licenses for two new businesses on Grand Boulevard?”the Sandbar, which has already opened, and the Salt Creek Wine Bar, slated for the old Fisher’s Pharmacy space.
Obtaining a liquor license was the key to trigger the renovation and expansion of the business, according to Miguel Villasenor.
“The plans are almost finished, but we haven’t presented them to village yet,” Villasenor said. “As soon as we get a definite confirmation, we’ll start.”
Villasenor said that the plans call for a 25- to 30-foot wide addition to the west side of the restaurant, into the vacant parking lot area where outside tables currently stand. La Cabanita would remain open during construction.
When complete, Villasenor said that the new section would have large doors that could be opened completely in warm weather to give the effect of an open-air cafe. The interior would be completely renovated, while the entire building would receive a coat of stucco to give it a uniform appearance. The parking lot would also be repaved and reconfigured, said Villasenor.
“Customers are loyal, but if we don’t give them more services and more room, it’ll be difficult to keep them,” Villasenor said. “If we have to work through the winter, we will.”