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Viva Mercado’s Mexican eatery finds new life in Village Square

If there’s one thing Bobby Mercado learned from his 38 years in the restaurant business, it’s that people shouldn’t have to wait for their food. Back when he was a waiter, he saw how one large party could hold up orders for other patrons.

“Some people had to wait 45 minutes for their meal,” he said. “That’s not good.”

So, when he opened his own place, Viva Mercado’s, in 1991, he made sure there was more than one chef and more than one food pickup area. That business succumbed to the economy, but now Mercado is back.

He’s reopening at a new location in Village Square, 9400 W. Sahara Ave., Suite 165, the space that formerly housed Chinita Mexican Grill.

“With us, (meals arrive in) no more than 15 minutes,” Mercado said. “And lunch, even quicker, because people only have one hour, and 15 minutes of that is driving to get here.”

Mercado’s introduction to the business was when he was 15. His stepfather ran a big Mexican restaurant in Chicago. A worker was a no-show, so his stepfather called the house.

“He said, ‘Get on your bike, I need you to come do the dishwashing,’ ” Mercado said.

Throughout high school, Mercado earned his way up the ladder at the restaurant, working evenings so he could go to school.

“When I moved here, I wasn’t 21 yet, so my old boss had my busboy deliver the drinks. So, I would take the order, but he would deliver them,” he said.

His original business was at Flamingo Road and Jones Boulevard and had 2,600 square feet. He was there for more than 27 years. He later moved to a location at 3553 S. Rainbow Blvd.

That 7,100-square-foot location opened “gangbusters,” he said.

“My performance called for about 500 covers (plates) a day, and we almost doubled it,” Mercado said. “We were averaging 750 to 800 a day. … After the ‘honeymoon,’ it leveled off at about 500, which I thought was reasonable. But right after Cinco de Mayo, gasoline prices started going up, and I battled it for four years. I threw everything I had into it, trying to survive it (the economy). I was desperate. I had to do whatever I could because everything I had was invested in the restaurant. I was hoping that the (bad) economy was going to last no more than two or three years. I never counted on it going on for four or five. In 2012, it was tougher than the years before.”

The business was doing fewer than 300 covers a day, not enough to afford the overhead.

“That was the final nail on the coffin,” he said. “The area changed. It went from upper-middle class to something different, and disposable incomes changed a lot.”

His own disposable income changed, too. In 2010, he got rid of all his “toys” — the nice cars, the big SUV and the ATVs. In 2011, he walked away from his custom-built, 5,200-square-foot home in The Lakes. He said he sold his furniture to make payroll.

“I didn’t want to leave owing any money to any of my employees, so I sold everything I could get my hands on,” Mercado said.

The family moved in with his in-laws in Minnesota.

Why not give up? Why feel compelled to give it another go?

“Because it’s all I know,” he said.

Mario Lopez has been with Mercado for 27 years, starting as a busboy. He said the restaurant on Rainbow Boulevard closing in 2012 “made me feel bad. A lot of people liked the food.”

He took jobs as a painter and doing tile work as he waited for Mercado to regroup.

Jose Rodriguez, a cook, said he never saw the closing coming.

“I saw the economy (deteriorating), but I never thought it would close,” he said. “It was a surprise for me. … I’m so excited that we are opening again because we are like family.”

The hardest part of regrouping was finding the working capital to reopen. Mercado worked closely with the owner of Chinita. But it’s Village Square and how much business it can attract, he said, that will decide his success.

“The new ownership, it’s night and day,” Mercado said. “It’s energy, and that’s what I need. I need a lot of energy, people walking around. … The theater is a huge plus.”

When he closed, he left a note on the door: “See you on Facebook.” Then, every 14 or 15 days for the next nine months, he put up a post, just to stay in touch. Finally, the day came when he announced he’d be reopening.

“That post, within six days, we had almost 9,800 people who read the post,” Mercado said. “They send me messages, saying, ‘Please, don’t change anything.’ I wasn’t planning to.”

Danny Weinberg, a customer for 35 years, said that reading that post made him “the happiest guy in the world. … In my opinion, it’s the best Mexican restaurant in town, the ingredients, the quality, the family recipes, there’s nothing like it.”

“I don’t care if I have to work 24 hours a day,” Mercado said. “I’m doing what I like, what’s in my heart, what I know.”

Contact Summerlin/Summerlin South View reporter Jan Hogan at jhogan@viewnews.com or 702-387-2949.

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