What happens when Hecho en Dumbo moves to the Bowery? It’s still Hecho en Dumbo, new borough be damned. Ethan Smith, one of the owners of the Mexican restaurant that for the past two and a half years has been doing evening-only service at Dumbo’s General Store, confirms that they’ll be setting up shop in the old Marion’s space at 354 Bowery come December or early January.
“It’s always been our plan to expand,” says Smith, adding that sharing a space with Dumbo General was “a wonderful and risk-free way for us to platform our concept,” which he created with Danny Mena, a chef who had previously worked at the Modern and grew up with Smith’s wife in Mexico City.
But if sharing a kitchen presented some difficulties, so did the decision to leave Dumbo. Smith and his partners spent almost a year looking for a space in the neighborhood, but between limited restaurant real estate and restrictions on using gas equipment in many of the historic buildings, they eventually began looking across the river.
“We’re absolutely heartsick to be leaving the neighborhood,” Smith says. “We have the best regular customers we could hope for; they’re the ones responsible for giving us our start. That said, I think a lot of them are really excited for us as well.”
Smith himself is excited about the opportunities presented by the old Marion’s space, which he and his team are transforming with the help of an architect who originally hails from Mexico City. “It’s giving us a chance to really hone our vision,” he says. “We get to build from the ground up and create a facility that’s specific to our cuisine. Ultimately, our overarching mission has been to try to create a Mexican restaurant that speaks to the contemporary cosmopolitan culture of Mexico instead of relying on rural and folksy stereotypes that often feel pretty gimmicky.” In other words, he’s not interested in creating an “Epcot Center-Mexicoland” experience.
According to Mena, the menu will incorporate “probably 70 percent” of its previous offerings, like tacos, sopas, and burritos, as well as new dishes like ceviches, grilled fish, pancita (tripe) soup, and carne de chango, a Veracruz specialty that literally translates as “monkey meat” but is really smoke-cured pork loin. Mena will also be doing brunch everyday in addition to dinner; he’s planning to do various egg dishes but no “huevos rancheros — there’s no need to replicate that again.” Torta bread will be made in-house, as will the tortillas, on a diminutive tortilla press. Cocktails will also be part of the menu; expect margaritas made with Herradura Blanco tequila and fresh lime juice, and other concoctions to feature tamarind juice made in-house.
The restaurant, Smith says, will seat around 65 and include a 10-seat bar. Unsurprisingly, given the community board’s resistance to granting liquor licenses to establishments on the increasingly overcrowded Bowery, Smith and his partners had to go before the board three times to make their case, aided by Richard Bach, Marion’s son. Ultimately, they agreed to close at 2 a.m. and not use the venue for live music, as they’ve done in Dumbo. “But we hope to move in [that direction] as soon as we established ourselves within the community and earn a little trust,” Smith says.
In the meantime, he’s planning to close up shop at Dumbo General by October 31 and shooting for a late-December opening on the Bowery. When the restaurant opens, their Dumbo customers will still be able to find the same staff and the same Brooklyn beers. And, of course, the same name. “We’re not changing our name,” Smith says. “We thought about it, calling it Hecho en Bowery or Hecho en Noho. But at the end of the day, I think the thrust has always been that we are Hecho en Dumbo. It comes from the Hecho en Mexico logo, and we always saw that as our little play on it, speaking to how authentic the cuisine is and also speaking to our roots in Brooklyn. I think when we move we’ll still see ourselves as a Brooklyn-style restaurant.”
And, he adds, “our other fear is if we change our name it might give people the impression we’re working on some sort of chain. Hecho en Upper East Side not our goal.”