The bar thing's just part of the name problem, the would-have-been landlord says.
"Partnership issues prohibited the name of Barrio Cafe from transferring to another location," Mike Bennan, principal at Oakmark Development, the company who worked with Esparza on the Gilbert location, told me this afternoon.
"The original letter of intent was with Barrio Cafe, then the name changed to Barrio Gilbert. We found out on Monday it was going to be called Barrio Tequileria."
Bennan says that as the deal changed, the risk profile increased -- and that the new name could imply more of a bar, alienating more family-oriented customers. But more than that, he says, his company was intending to contribute a substantial amount of money to the concept, and wanted to make sure it was well spent -- on something called Barrio Cafe.
"We thought we were getting Barrio Cafe," Bennan says. "Barrio Cantina [in Phoenix and not owned by Esparza] recently closed. Too many different Barrios might get confusing for people and water down the concept."
What did Esparza have to say about all this?
"There's only one Barrio Cafe and that's how it's going to stay," Esparza says. "They knew that from the start." She adds, "Why is the name so important? My reputation should carry me in Gilbert."
Esparza denies that Barrio Cafe was on the original letter of intent and that the name of the restaurant was not the main issue but instead the straw that broke the camel's back.
What happens to the space next to Postino now? Bennan told me he has other interested parties he's been "holding at bay" while he's been working with Esparza.
"They're all big names," he tells me. "Ones people will recognize."
That could explain a lot. Stay tuned.
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