The Daily Tar Heel

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Saturday September 18th

Mexican food with a familiar twist will replace Hops on Franklin St.

The father of one of the co-founders of Que Chula, set to open in April, opened one of the first Mexican restaurants in Chapel Hill, El Rodeo, in 1989.

Owners Jose Ramirez and Laurena Ibarra and business partner Miguel Cuevas are preparing for the opening of Que Chula, which they hope will open by April. Photo courtesy of Jose Ramirez.
Buy Photos Owners Jose Ramirez and Laurena Ibarra and business partner Miguel Cuevas are preparing for the opening of Que Chula, which they hope will open by April. Photo courtesy of Jose Ramirez.

Que Chula will be replacing Hops Burger Bar's old location on 104 W. Franklin Street. One of the owners, José Ramirez, said they hope to open sometime in April.

“I think Chapel Hill is ready for something really authentic,” Ramirez said. “It’ll be something you haven't tried unless you traveled outside of the U.S. to Guanajuato or Jalisco.”

Ramirez will own Que Chula with his wife, Laurena Ibarra, and his business partner, Miguel Cuevas. Owning a Mexican restaurant is not a new business for any of them. Cuevas owns Totopos in Cary, Ibarra owns a Mexican restaurant in Florida, and Ibarra and Ramirez own a Mexican restaurant in Virginia. The Que Chula on Franklin Street will be the first restaurant any of them own called Que Chula.

Ramirez said the owners are currently waiting for custom furniture to come in from Mexico. He said they will start hiring employees in about two weeks.

Que Chula’s menu will focus on authentic Mexican dishes inspired from Central Mexican regions like Guanajuato and Jalisco. Ramirez and Ibarra both have family roots in Jalisco, and some of the Mexican dishes on the Que Chula menu will feature some of the family recipes they grew up with. The carnitas, for example, are going to be made according to a recipe from Ramirez’ father.

With the focus of Que Chula menu being on authenticity, the street tacos will be made with freshly made corn tortillas. Suadero tacos and carne asada tacos are among the handcraft tacos that customers can expect.

“All of our tacos are going to be unique and handcrafted,” Ramirez said. “A lot of the stuff on the menu is going to be different from other Mexican restaurants.”

Ramirez said Que Chula will be a casual, sit-down restaurant with an urban vibe. Lunch specials will start at $8.99, and dinner specials will start at $10.99.

Ramirez and Ibarra moved to Richmond, Virginia eight years ago. Recently, they decided to move back to Ibarra’s hometown, Chapel Hill, to be closer to Ibarra’s parents. 

Ibarra's father, Rigoberto Ibarra, opened one of the first Mexican restaurants in Chapel Hill, El Rodeo, in 1989. There were two other Mexican restaurants at the time — Flying Burrito and Papa Gallo — but El Rodeo was the first sit-down restaurant.

Ibarra’s father moved to California when he was 18 and later moved to Georgia where he started as a dishwasher in the restaurant business. He soon became the main chef. In 1988, he was offered a position as a manager for the El Rodeo restaurant in Durham. One year later, in November 1989, he decided to start his own El Rodeo restaurant in Chapel Hill. El Rodeo in Chapel Hill has since closed.

“El Rodeo meant freedom to my father," Ibarra said. "He used to see the world as always working, working, working, and he thought the U.S. was only about work. When El Rodeo started doing well, he had more free time to spend with my family, and he visited his parents in Mexico too.”

Ibarra said El Rodeo enabled her father to help out his family and friends, both in the U.S. and in Mexico. 

“Back in my region, he is very well known for how he has helped other people open their own restaurant — like giving them advice or a loan, or giving them the opportunity to work in his restaurants,” Ibarra said.

Her father opened about 16 restaurants total along the East Coast, ranging from Wilmington to South Carolina. Some restaurants are El Rodeo chains, and others are El Cerro Grande chains.

“To me, El Rodeo was the opportunity for us to bring a little bit of ourselves to Chapel Hill,” Ibarra said. 

Ibarra said Que Chula will be similar to El Rodeo, but the menu will feature more authentic dishes from Mexico. In 1989, Mexican restaurants were more “Tex-Mex” style than authentic, Ibarra said.

“Que Chula is going to be an authentic Mexican restaurant with a twist. You might see similar items at El Rodeo, but we are going to make it interesting. It's going to be made from scratch,” she said.

Ibarra said El Rodeo and Que Chula will also have similar atmospheres.

“We do want to keep the essence that the restaurant is for family, for friends,” she said. “Back then, El Rodeo was the spot to go. People would wait like three hours. We want people to feel like Que Chula will be the spot to go. The decorations will be modern and fun, and it will be welcoming to all generations and all ages.”

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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