Each restaurant owned and operated by A Good Egg Dining Group has its own unique flavor and feel. But one element that is particularly consistent throughout all of their restaurants, aside from extraordinarily tasty food, is the ambiance of warmth and hospitality. After spending a brief amount of time with Heather and Keith Paul, it becomes clear that they are personally responsible for that atmosphere. The Pauls have a way about them that makes guests feel instantly comfortable, welcome, and important.
One of the newest restaurants to open in the A Good Egg family is Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes. The moment I walked in the door, I knew I was experiencing something special. Every detail reflects thought and effort—the way light is used, the color of the gum at the front desk, and the angles of the logo that are mirrored throughout the restaurant in everything from the tile on the bar, to the pendent lights that hang over the tables, to the metal wall structure that houses cut wood. Before the food has even arrived, you are immersed in a thoughtful dining experience that honors both culture and history. And then your server presents you with a Cactus Fruit Slushie and you fall in love hard.
Restaurant Name: Barrios Fine Mexican Dishes
Your Names: Heather and Keith Paul
How did you land on the name Barrios?
Over the years, the most important part of our success has been our people. One family in particular stood by us from day one, seventeen years ago, the Barrios family. Juan Barrios, the family patriarch, has been at Cheever’s since the first day we opened. Juan’s nephew, Jose Barrios, is a sous chef at Barrios. We have employed more than fifty brothers, cousins, sisters, nephews, and children of Juan through the years. We love this family and could have never made this journey without them.
More fun facts:
Juan created the “Juan’s Queso Chihuahua” at Cheever’s. The word “barrios” in Spanish means “neighborhood.” This is our first restaurant located in the midtown neighborhood and we couldn't be more elated. Jorgito Barrios (Juan’s little brother) was also one of the original members of the Cheever's staff. He was young, full of life, and always the first one to respond to Heather when she would ask everyone how they were doing in the morning. His response was usually a vibrant "SUPERBUENO!" Jorgito left a lasting impression on us and the A Good Egg Family. We have adopted “Superbueno” as our mantra because we hope to be a place where people come to feel vibrant, full of life, and get to experience our love of food!
Where can we drop in and try out Barrios?
1000 North Hudson in downtown OKC
How did your passion for food come about?
We met working for a regional food service distributor. We both have always loved to cook, carrying on recipes from our mothers, fathers, and grandmothers. To say we are obsessed with food is an understatement
What drives your food concept?
We see a ton of different restaurant concepts every year around the country. If we see something that piques our interest—a trend, the guest’s dining experience, or how food likes are changing in big cities—we bring an idea back to the Good Egg team. We are passionate about providing top notch food and hospitality experiences to our community. We want to be a part of building dining choices that continue to make our city proud.
How did you get into the restaurant business?
We purchased a small Creole-Cajun restaurant at 23rd and Hudson from a lady that was ready to sell and do something different. At the time, we both worked for the food distributor Ben E. Keith. We borrowed money from family and credit cards. The name of the original flower shop [Cheever’s Flowers occupied the building prior to the Creole-Cajun restaurant] remained, but the concept changed. Cheever’s Cafe….and the rest is history!
All of your restaurants have a feel to them that are as distinct and beautiful as the food they serve. Where do you draw your inspiration for your menus and aesthetics?
We pull ideas from many different places: travel, movies, childhood memories, our amazing people…but the inspiration always starts with the food. The menu tells the story and the décor and details support that story to create a full picture and experience for our guests. Many times the restaurant building itself is a big part of the story. We have been very fortunate to house many restaurants in old and unique buildings. We also work with a great group of professionals outside of our Good Egg Team. Braid Creative and Gardner Architects have been amazing collaborative partners.
Can you tell us a little about the Barrios building history?
In 1909, Oscar Frederickson founded Frederickson Tire Company. He later married into the Swanson family, and over the years the business morphed into Swanson Tires. The tire dealership moved to the property at Northwest 9th and Hudson in 1942.
Fast-forward to 2002 when Mary Helen Swanson decided to get out of the business. She sold to long time Swanson’s employee, Mike Crouse, who was a high school student when he started with the company in 1986, sweeping floors. At the time, the Midtown district was in steep decline, with businesses failing and buildings being boarded up.
With the introduction of the MAPS project, people began moving back to the Midtown area and its revitalization began. As the neighborhood changed and property values went up, the offers to purchase the 30,000-square-foot building and surrounding land came rolling in. When given an offer he could not refuse, Mike sold the building and the land in October of 2015.
We were regulars of Swanson’s as were many of our staff. When we were approached to invest in the redeveloped property and operate its anchor restaurant….the decision was a no-brainer. At the time, we’d had a Mexican concept in our back pockets for over seven years—it just needed the perfect location. The courtyard area at 9th and Hudson happened to lend itself beautifully to the hacienda style layout we envisioned.
Were there a lot of challenges taking it from a working auto garage to a dining establishment?
Not at all. The building’s history only added depth to the story we wanted to create with Barrios. The handmade black glossy tiles on the bar give a nod to all the oil changes that might have occurred in the space. We repurposed the old wood tire racks to make the unique wood design on the outside of the manager’s office. We kept many of the original door openings. The bare grass and dirt lot right outside the garage’s back door sold us very quickly as the perfect place for the Barrios patio. We painted the fi replace pink to pay homage to the color that the Swanson’s Tire building once was.
When you are coming up with a restaurant concept, how long does it take you to develop a menu and ambiance design? Do you choose the menu before you design the restaurant, or visa versa?
Most of our concepts have taken almost two years to develop. The menu comes first, with the rest of the details working simultaneously, and hopefully they come together just as we envisioned it twenty-four months earlier.
Barrios has an extensive and creative drink menu. Tell us a little about how you developed your drinks.
We are so lucky to have a wonderful team! When creating the Barrios drink menu, the goal was to have a beverage program with unique, hand-crafted cocktails, and a well-edited tequila, beer, and wine list. It is always important to us that bar and beverage items are as thought out as the food menu. We mostly give our team the high notes of what we are looking for, supported by visual details and a concept. Jenny Kress, the Barrios Bar Manager, and Jason Ewald, our Director of Bar and Beverage, did an amazing job of creating real life versions of our dreams!
If we wanted to try a sweet drink, what would be your recommendation?
Cactus Fruit Slushie
What if we wanted to be adventurous?
Cheech & Chong or Pisco Maté
Which are your personal favorites?
The Frozen Avocado Margarita and the Strawberry Rose Sangria
If we wanted to enjoy a meal that completely represents Barrios, what should we order?
The Hot Chicken Sopes! A little southern, soul, and Tex-Mex!
What aspects of Oklahoma City do you think are best for being in the food business?
Oklahoma City, especially the more urban areas, has been in a growth period for the past ten to fifteen years. We have grown right alongside the city; others have as well. Each year, the residents get a little more adventurous and expect more from restaurants. This is challenging and makes our job fun. The people of Oklahoma City will always appreciate and demand genuine hospitality.
In what ways would you like to see it develop and grow?
We hope that Oklahoma City remains a city where start-up restaurateurs will continue to follow their dreams and open restaurants. Each time a new restaurant opens, it pushes all of us to do better, which is great for this city.
Anything new we can be looking forward to from A Good Egg Dining Group?
We have a couple of new concepts in our back pocket, but for the near future, expect to have a better dining experience in our restaurants than you did the time before. We are taking a break from opening full service restaurants and focusing on how we can make our current operations top-notch.
Thank you so much to Heather and Keith for your time and for giving the city such wonderful places to enjoy life and experience superbueno food!