The bad news is Mama's Mexican Kitchen will indeed close March 31, as reported last month. The good news, announced via press release this week, is restaurateur Marcus Charles — who owns Local 360 Café & Bar, Bell + Whete Gastropub + Events, and The Crocodile — has purchased Mama's and will revive it as Mama's Cantina.
You'll recall that in early 2015, Mama's Mexican Kitchen owners Mike McAlpin and wife Marla sold their building to a developer planning a new mixed-use property. Since, their storied 42-year-old restaurant has been living on borrowed time, originally slated to shutter last fall before getting a reprieve until the end of this month. Now Charles will reopen Mama's under its new name in early May 2016, then reopen it yet again in the new building after construction is completed.
Why bother opening in May just to shut down again soon after? "I think it'd be strange for the neighborhood to lose the location and have a boarded up building," Charles told Eater. "For us it's more of a play for the neighborhood in the sense it keeps that space activated, and gives us the opportunity to try out new things, test new recipes, and get a sense of what people are enjoying and use this time productively."
Chef Jenny Izaguirre, hailing from Honduras and current executive chef at Bell + Whete, will run the kitchen at Mama's Cantina, introducing some family recipes along with other updates. "What used to be cutting edge is no longer cutting edge," Charles said of Mama's current menu. "What we're trying to do is give a freshness to the menu. It's still obviously Mexican — tacos, burritos, and such — but we want to add a more modern look in general." That includes the interior, where the back bar will be moved to the front room and many non-structural dividing walls will be knocked down to open up the space.
Ultimately, Charles says he loves Belltown and hopes this move will help the neighborhood retain some of its history while still advancing. "What we want to do is help guide it into a place that isn't just completely gentrified, that, yes, has new development but also has a sense of spirit of what has been there for a long time. I know a lot of people don't agree and say you're ruining it, but you can accept reality as it is and create something you want to enjoy and be a part of, or you can let someone else do it and they'll do something brand new."
"We had a similar experience at The Crocodile," Charles explained. "People had reservations that it wouldn't be the same, and in fact it's not, but it has the sense of tradition that the old one has and I think the community is better off for having it."