HALLOWELL — A popular local Mexican restaurant of yesteryear will return to central Maine this week at its riverside location in the city’s downtown.

But Jim Remley, owner of Bravo’s Southwest Bistro, doesn’t want you to know what day that is.

They’ll be opening for dinner some night this week, he said, but without much notice in order to work out potential kinks in service without too much inundation from customers.

“We’re going to start soft, start small and be good at what we’re doing,” Remley said.

For a week, the 100-seat restaurant, with a 10-tap bar and an outdoor patio feet from the Kennebec River at 234 Water St., in the same building as Cafe de Bangkok, will serve a scaled-back version of the menu before the full phase-in next week, Remley said.

The full menu features Mexican staples including burritos, chimichangas and fajitas, but the restaurant’s head chef, Chuck Priestley, a Miami native, said he will introduce a host of Southwest-inspired dishes such as marinated sirloin steak, smoked chicken wings and chorizo-filled dates.

“I don’t want people to say, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’ I want people to say, ‘The best I’ve ever had; I can’t believe it. It’s incredible,’ ” Priestley said. “I’m a perfectionist.”

Remley, 63, of Winthrop, is the former proprietor of the original Bravo’s restaurant in downtown Gardiner, which was open from 1981 to 1994. His wife, Deborah, and daughter Katherine, will help him run the restaurant.

He said a closed Bravo’s location in Augusta was run by his nephew, while another closed restaurant in Boothbay Harbor was a partnership between the two.

The new Bravo’s will be Remley’s re-entry to the restaurant business after selling Peppers Garden and Grill, in Winthrop, in 2007.

“Once restaurant is in your blood, it seems to always be there,” he said. “It seemed like the perfect place, the perfect city, to bring Bravo’s back.”

The restaurant will fill somewhat of a niche in Hallowell and the capital area.

Hallowell doesn’t have a Mexican restaurant, and Margarita’s Mexican Restaurant, a chain with 24 locations in five states from Maine to Pennsylvania, is the only full-service, sit-down Mexican restaurant in Augusta.

With the opening of Bravo’s, it’s a watershed week for Mexican food in the area. Lisa’s Legit Burritos, catering more to those looking for a quick meal, first opened in downtown Gardiner in 2011. On Monday, a downtown Augusta location opened.

Remley credited Hallowell officials for granting liquor licenses and helping navigate rules and regulations, and Mayor Charlotte Warren is happy to have him in the city’s downtown, with a dense population of restaurants.

“As a citizen who is always thinking of new opportunities, I’ve always said we need a cantina in downtown Hallowell,” she said. “I think they’ll do well.”

The location Remley is moving into, however, has had trouble keeping a long-standing business in recent years, even though Cafe de Bangkok, on the north side of the building owned by Gary Violette, of Manchester, has thrived, opening more than a decade ago.

City records show that since 2000, there have been at least six businesses at Remley’s location on the building’s south side, not counting Bravo’s, according to Michael Starn, Hallowell’s city manager.

“I don’t want to say it’s snake-bit, but it seemed nothing lasted too, too long there,” Remley said. “I’m not going to think about it.”

The last eatery there, Francesca’s Italian Restaurant, closed in May after owner Frances Jurczak had a heart attack, according to Violette.

Since June, crews have been working to transform the location, notably adding new floors and an adobe-like finish on the walls.

Remley said he’s in it for the long haul — a “10-year plan” for himself before perhaps turning the business over to his daughter, Katherine. He thinks he has the location and the formula to make the restaurant a mainstay.

“He’s got a really good track record, from what he’s done in the past,” Violette said. “I think he’s just going to do a slam-dunk of a job.”

Michael Shepherd — 621-5632
[email protected]

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