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'We tried to bring Mexico to Chapel Hill': Ay Por Dios! celebrates grand opening

Ay Por Dios! sits on Franklin Street on Thursday, Sep. 28, 2023.

Ay Por Dios!, a new upscale Mexican restaurant on West Franklin Street, officially opened on Sept. 28 after months of delay. The restaurant held a grand opening celebration on Thursday with a mariachi band and a DJ.

A band performs at the grand opening of Ay Por Dios! on Franklin Street on Thursday, Sep. 28, 2023.

Edy Barahona, the owner of the restaurant, said it took about two years to finish construction and renovations for the restaurant in preparation for the grand opening. 

“Lots of people are excited and want to see the inside space and try all the dishes and drinks,” Stephanie Cobert, the director of marketing for the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership, said.

The restaurant's food and drink menu is inspired by Oaxaca, a region of southern Mexico. The menu offers a range of dishes for lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch. The restaurant is catered towards families, as well as college students.

“The patio space is going to be very festive, and the inside is gorgeous and very 'Instagrammable,” Cobert said. “So we expect a lot of engagement on social media with it because they have so many places to take great photos.”

Ay Por Dios! is located at 431 W. Franklin St. and has an outside patio, as well as indoor seating. It is also available for small and large group event bookings. 

A set table awaits the arrival of new customers at the grand opening of Ay Por Dios! on Thursday, Sep. 28, 2023.

According to the restaurant's website, the entire culinary staff at Ay Por Dios! was trained by chefs from Mexico.

“We tried to bring Mexico to Chapel Hill,” Barahona said.

He said he got the idea for Ay Por Dios! by traveling to new places and trying new foods and restaurants. 

“You need to think about it like a customer before you think about it like an owner, because you need to see what people like,” Barahona said. “How do you deliver the dream?”

He said the restaurant's two main chefs — one of whom is from Mexico and the other, Spain — worked to combine their culinary knowledge and bring something beautiful to Chapel Hill.

Barahona also owns Kahlovera Mexican Bar and Grill at Meadowmont Village. He said he was encouraged to own a restaurant on Franklin Street and invest in good food and customer service. 

“I think that you'll see more of an increase in foot traffic on that side of downtown, on the west end, which is great,” Cobert said. “There are a lot of great food and beverage options on that end as well as gathering spaces.” 

Barahona said the restaurant’s outdoor patio can seat over 80 patrons. He also said many people are already trying to make reservations at Ay Por Dios! and that engagement on social media has been high.

“We've had a lot of people come through and everybody's super excited about the opening," Kristen Snyder, a server at Ay Por Dios!, said. "All the servers are really excited."

Snyder said she was wanted to apply for a server position at the restaurant because of the great location, menu and staff — many of whom are UNC students.

“It's been a long and hard process," Cobert said. "But it's finally here and we hope that the public goes and supports them. They are locally owned and operated. So we want everyone to come out and enjoy it and just like every other retail or restaurant or bar in downtown Chapel Hill.”

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