KINGMAN - The Spanish phrase "plaza bonita" translates roughly to "nice place" in English, and that's what brothers Jesus and Joel Zuniga were hoping to bring to Kingman when they first announced last August that their newest in a chain of Plaza Bonita restaurants would be opening soon in the old Whataburger building at 1969 Beverly Ave.
But the road for Kingman's Plaza Bonita has been anything but pretty since then, with the Zunigas' contractor, Martin Dreager of Lake Havasu City, running into some unexpected issues along the way that have delayed the restaurant's opening by several months.
Dreager had worked with the Zunigas when they opened another Plaza Bonita in Lake Havasu about two and a half years ago, refitting a former JB's Restaurant there. That opening, he said, had been a "slam dunk," but remodeling Kingman's old Whataburger has proven substantially more complicated, due mainly to the fact that converting a fast food restaurant to a full-fledged restaurant and bar requires additional plans and contingencies that Dreager hadn't foreseen.
"It's more work than I had anticipated, and when I bid work I try to stick to my guns," he said. "But we're getting over the hump."
According to city building official Dave Hattrick, the city had placed a stop work order on the restaurant toward the end of December due to the lack of a proper blueprint for the new seating, sinks and cooking equipment the restaurant plans to use. Hattrick said that while the restaurant had been approved for a standard remodel, that only applied to the restaurant's cosmetic features: paint, tile and the like.
"They're changing the seating, the kitchen and the sinks, so they need more complete plans, and they have not provided those to either the building department or the county health department," Hattrick said. "His cooking appliance layout is different and requires different hood arrangements - Type I fire-resistant hoods are very expensive and from day one we've said, 'You're going to have to change that hood.'"
Dreager admitted that he had originally been frustrated at the city's reaction, arguing that he was really just replacing one restaurant with another, but he said he has since relented and is now working to finalize plans to satisfy the city, Environmental Health and the Fire Marshal, adapting to each entity's newest rules and regulations.
"My kneejerk reaction was, 'Come on, would you rather have a boarded-up Whataburger or an open restaurant?'" Dreager said. "I was frustrated in the beginning when they first threw the screwdriver in my cogwheels, but the rules are the rules, no matter what the city. I've got to get a set of plans that accurately reflect the new seating plan and the new cooking equipment."
Dreager said he hopes to have the plans submitted in time for the restaurant to open within the next two weeks. Once the permits are granted, he said, it shouldn't take long to hook up the cooking equipment and set up the tables - the interior of the restaurant has already been completely redesigned, with the walls painted in vibrant tones of tangerine and pink and adorned with a variety of knickknacks to enhance the Mexican feel of the place.
Once the restaurant is open Dreager said he believes it should do well, being in a good location with a wide variety of South Central Mexican dishes, from pollo poblano and grilled salmon Portuguese to a garden fresco burrito and a seafood soup loaded with crab legs, scallops and calamari.
With seven other locations across the state, Jesus Zuniga said Kingman's Plaza Bonita was among the most difficult to open, between the three years it took to find an ideal restaurant location and the latest issues with the remodeling. All the same, however, Zuniga said he and his brother are looking forward to becoming a staple of the Kingman dining scene - and sooner, rather than later.