MexCal Opens in Downtown Orinda

Sarah Rockwood, Staff Writer

MexCal, a new Mexican Fusion Bistro, opened its doors on 65 Moraga Way in Downtown Orinda last December, adding another flavorful addition to Orinda’s local restaurant collection. It will be interesting to see how this Mexican bistro, which has gained regard from its original success in Danville, puts a twist on classic Mexican dishes to stand out. But it will be even more interesting to see how long it can last.

The curse of 65 Moraga Way has caused four establishments to go out of business within the last 10 years, interspersed with long periods of vacancy. Most people who have lived in Orinda long enough can remember a pizza shop that was one of the earlier tenets. After that closed, Ristorante Amoroma opened, a white tablecloth Italian resturant that already has many establishments throughout the Bay Area. But Orinda was not destined to be one of them, because the restaurant closed less than two years later.

Soon after, another Italian restaurant, Trattoria Lupetti, tried to test its luck.  But it, too, was unable to hold its own against the competition from Downtown Orinda diners, lasting even shorter than its predecessor.

Why can’t this prime corner location hold a tenet?  Extremely high rental rates and tough competition with Orindian perennial classics, such as La Piazza, pose a difficult challenge for any new contender, no matter how high quality their food is.  Junior Brandon Fluegge proposed that “The competition is certainly the main factor, but it is also important to serve something different.  I would rather go to Table 24 because they serve comfort California food, something I can’t find many other places, while I can go anywhere to get a better Mexican or Italian meal.”

For a new restaurant to survive, it needs to be different enough to attract customers away from their regular spots to try out the new kid in town.  To be truly successful, the restaurant will also have to lock in some regulars.  There will be a rush when they first open, when everyone is excited to try something new, but the commotion quickly dies down after the first few months.  That’s when the real challenge emerges.

The highly volatile tenet situation of 65 Moraga Way illustrates how difficult the restaurant business is, and it’s unfortunate to see so many budding businesses suffer and eventually lose out.  But it’s also nice to have the variety and change in pace the competition of serving food requires. The opening of a new restaurant is always an exciting event: it’s a justification to have a night out trying somewhere new that could potentially become a new regular.

MexCal founder and owner Jose Barajas hopes to break the chain of failed restaurants and become the next established Orinda classic.  By adding a twist to some Mexican dishes, such as a unique pineapple and cheese appetizer, Barajas hope to attract customers backs with authentic Mexican flavor.  His favorite dish, the lamb, is one of MexCal’s specialties.  “When I grew up, we raised lambs and prepared them for meals ourselves, so it is a very traditional meal”.

Will MexCal be able to stand its own against Maya just across the street or Baracoa in Theater Square?  Will Barajas still be providing Orinda with Mexican cuisine a year from now?  Only time will tell.