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The low roar of chatter, clanging silverware and customers flowing through the door heralded what loyal customers had been waiting on for years: the reopening of El Tepehuan.
The famed Mexican restaurant — coming up on nearly 40 years of history — closed in November 2015, said its owner's husband, David Davis. In the meantime, it doled out its dishes from a food truck, which closed in July 2016, Davis said. Recently, owner Graciela Corral said that issues that came up in 2015 made it necessary to move to another location.
“We anticipated completion in August and got done in early September,” Davis said of the construction, which began in March at the new location, 3495 S. Broadway. The lease ran out at the old location, which was just up the block at 3457 S. Broadway, and getting a contractor and figuring out how to finance the transition took time.
“Nobody liked the way it closed,” Davis said.
In its aftermath, Corral and Davis heard questions from customers in downtown Englewood on its status.
We “frequent downtown restaurants, and everyone said, what happened? Are you gonna bring it back?” said Davis, recounting how people would recognize Corral on the street.
Now, the Mexican staple is back bigger than before. The new location expanded capacity to 103 seats, about 50 seats more than in the old location, Davis said. Customers packed the place by about 11 a.m. on reopening day, and some tables were filling at 7:30 a.m. Davis mused about the possibility of being overcrowded.
“Here, we thought, maybe we won't have that problem,” Davis said, laughing. “Maybe we will.”
It was a rare seat that was left open in the place as groups large and small chattered and ate — former Mayor Randy Penn among them.
“El Tepehuan has been a mainstay on Broadway for 40 years,” Penn said before the opening day. “They are a destination restaurant that had, and will have, a tremendous following.”
At his table, he laughed and said the new place is a “dangerous location” for him — his office as executive director of the Greater Englewood Chamber of Commerce, just across the street at the famed “spaceship bank” building, enables him to come eat there whenever he likes — but he welcomed the opening.
Customers struck up conversations with Corral, who said a lot people in the crowd know her and came to the old restaurant. Corral was running around the restaurant herself with the staff, overseeing the first day.
Her dream was to have her own restaurant. When her husband, Jose Corral, started El Tepehuan in 1978, it was a family business, with their children helping operate it. Jose Corral was killed in a car accident in 1987, but Graciela Corral took over, and she and her children kept the restaurant open.
Asked how it feels to have El Tepehuan open again, Corral said it feels like a dream.
Customers could relate.
“We were waiting for this to reopen,” said Gretchen Clamcey, 32, who lives in south Denver and used to go to the old location. “We were so excited when we drove by on Sunday and saw the sign that it was opening.”
As staff bustled in and out of tables, Davis watched the crowd fill the new El Tepehuan, the prior location of which being where he met Corral and they started dating about a decade ago.
“This is lunch,” Davis said. “This is El Tepehuan lunch,” he added, with emphasis.
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