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Rio Bravo slated to open in Paonia in February

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Photo by Tamie Meck A new Mexican restaurant is slated to open in February at the former Sol Margaritas location at 240 Grand Avenue in Paonia. The Paonia Sol Margaritas closed last October.

A new Mexican restaurant is coming to Paonia. The Rio Bravo will open this month at the site of the former Sol Margaritas location at 240 Grand Avenue .

Sol Margaritas operated for more than a decade at the location before closing last October. Former chef/waiter Juan Curiel is planning to open the Rio Bravo in time for Valentine's Day. The restaurant is named for the river that runs between the borders of the United States and Mexico, said Curiel.

Curiel previously owned and managed several Mexican restaurants. He moved to the U.S. from Mexico with a friend to work for a major Mexican restaurant in the Seattle area. He stayed for eight years, starting as a dishwasher and being promoted to head chef after three months.

Curiel went on to open and manage several restaurants in Utah. He opened a restaurant in Whitefish, Mont., but later closed it due to the high cost of obtaining liquor licenses, which have sold in Montana's secondary market for as much as $500,000. "You'd need to sell a lot of margaritas to get it all back," he said.

He also managed a restaurant in Pueblo, which went out of business after several chain restaurants sprang up nearby. He came to Paonia three years ago to work for his friend and Sol Margaritas owner, Felix Barron. After Sol Margaritas closed last October he worked for Barron at his Delta location.

Curiel said that when he learned the Paonia restaurant would close, he started looking into opening his own restaurant. "I love the people in this town," he said.

For the last few weeks Curiel has worked nights remodeling the new space. The project is nearing completion. Late last week several original oil paintings on canvas featuring colorful scenes of Mexico were hanging on the walls, and privacy dividers were being placed between the booths.

Curiel said the restaurant will open six days a week for lunch and dinner to start and will have a staff of six or seven. He will also consider opening on Sundays if the demand is there. The menu will offer numerous items made from his own recipes, including tacos el pastor (grilled pork), caldo de camerones (Mexican shrimp soup), and personal favorites including carne asada (marinated grilled steak) and chili rellenos.

He plans a soft opening as early as Valentine's Day. Curiel said he is in the process of applying for a liquor license and plans to hold a grand opening as soon as the restaurant can serve alcohol.

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