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Su Casa, an iconic Mexican restaurant at 400 East Main Street in Branford since 1974, will serve its final customers on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. The site will become the new home of an Archie Moore's Bar & Restaurant. (Photo courtesy Su Casa Mexican Restaurant )
Located at 400 East Main Street since 1974, Su Casa Mexican Restaurant opened as Branford's first Mexican restaurant and one of only a handful in the state. (Photo courtesy Su Casa Mexican Restaurant )
Owner Susan Van Antwerpen said she has always enjoyed sharing Su Casa's warm atmosphere and collection of Mexican-themed art with customers. (Photo courtesy Su Casa Mexican Restaurant )
Final Day of Service Set for September 29
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After 44 years in business in Branford, Su Casa Mexican Restaurant will soon close, ending an era. Su Casa's final day of service will be on Saturday, Sept. 29, said the owner. The iconic restaurant at 400 East Main Street has been in town since 1974.
In an exclusive interview with Zip06/The Sound on Sept. 7, Su Casa owner Susan Van Antwerpen said Connecticut-based Archie Moore's Bar & Restaurants will open a new restaurant at the site, to be developed in the existing building footprint.
"They're putting in another restaurant and they're re-doing the building," said Van Antwerpen, adding she felt Archie Moore's will be a good fit.
"I think it's going to be a similar restaurant crowd. Apparently, the new ones that they are putting up are quite something," said Van Antwerpen.
Van Antwerpen says her decision to close Su Casa was "bittersweet." Over at the past four years, she's had discussions with a handful of others interested in continuing to run the restaurant as new owners, but none of the arrangements panned out. This year, when a representative for Archie Moore's approached with an offer for the property, "...it was too good to say no," said Van Antwerpen.
Van Antwerpen began sharing news of her decision after finalizing details on Sept. 6.
"We're telling customers and sharing the news via our Facebook page – and some of them were already telling us, believe it or not," said Van Antwerpen. "We've had customers coming in and saying 'Oh, we're going to miss your warm sauce!'"
Customers who frequent Su Casa love to share the restaurant's signature opener of tortilla chips with Salsa verde and cold red sauce, but also know to ask for the warm red sauce (look for it on the menu), a dipping favorite. Other Su Casa customer faves include fajita quesadillas and house margaritas.
The building where Su Casa got its start was formerly The Mandolin restaurant, where one of the owners would stroll playing a left-handed mandolin, said Van Antwerpen.
Su Casa Mexican Restaurant was originally incorporated in July, 1974 and opened in Branford as El Torero on Friday, Dec. 13, 1974 after extensive renovations to the building. Van Antwerpen changed the restaurant's name to Su Casa within about six months' time. Prior to opening in Branford, she was part of a restaurant ownership in Milford.
At the time, Su Casa was Branford's only Mexican restaurant and introduced many shoreliners to their first nachos, fajitas and guacamole, among other dishes. It was one of a handful of Mexican restaurants in Connecticut, in an industry with a failure rate of 60 percent in the first three years, said Van Antwerpen. Over time, Su Casa's basic Tex-Mex concept menu grew into the restaurant's expansive menu of Mexican, American and regional specialties. The restaurant also built up an impressive tequila, beer and wine list.
The restaurant's several dining rooms also evolved, including a major renovation which opened the lower level dining room in 1986 (for both private and restaurant use), followed by opening Branford's first restaurant outdoor patio, accessible from the lower dining room.
From 1990 to 2012, Su Casa was the annual winner of Connecticut Magazine's "Readers Choice" for Best Mexican Restaurant and was also a top winner in New Haven Advocate "Best Of" readers' poll, among other recognitions. Su Casa even earned a dining "Gold Plate" rating from television's Billy Costa.
Looking back on Su Casa's success, Van Antwerpen said Su Casa has always "tried to stick to a formula" that's worked for over forty years.
Van Antwerpen has especially loved developing Su Casa's warm, woody interior and casual dining experience; and making friends with many customers who have been going to the restaurant for decades.
"We like the atmosphere, but we're older. One of my employees keeps telling me the millennials want something new and bright and wild. And I don't. We have dinner there every Wednesday, and I look around and I really love it," said Van Antwerpen, who dines with her husband, Ray Gincavage.
Part of Su Casa's charm has always been its collection of Mexican-themed artwork.
"I know every person who did every piece of art," said Van Antwerpen.
She's contacted other Mexican restaurants in the area to see if some of the pieces could find a new home.
"I thought I might see if some of the other restaurants would like it, because I don't want it to disappear. Guacamole's [Restaurant & Bar]came and looked, and they loved the artwork," said Van Antwerpen.
Van Antwerpen is also hoping her staff of about 40 will find new opportunities. Some key members of the staff have been with her for much or all of Su Casa's life span, such as dining room manager Barbara Becker and general manager Ivan Oumov, who runs Su Casa's day-to-day operations.
"Barbara has been with us for 30 years, and Ivan started on Day One – he was a dishwasher," said Van Antwerpen. "And then he took a year or two off to finish college, and he came back. He's done a good job."
Van Antwerpen is very grateful to the entire Su Casa family of employees, especially Oumov, who's dedication, managerial skills and culinary creativity has greatly contributed to the longevity and success of the restaurant, she said. She considers Oumov, together with Becker, as the "backbone" of the business.
The Su Casa kitchen also once employed another local who went on to become known around the country.
"We also had another dishwasher who is kind of interesting: Todd English," said Van Antwerpen.
English, a celebrity chef, author and successful American restauranteur, was a Branford High School student in the late 1970's when he came to work at Su Casa, thanks to a friendship between Van Antwerpen and English's mother.
"His mom and I worked in the kitchen when Ivan went to college, and Todd washed dishes," said Van Antwerpen, who recalls English as a "creative" talent in the kitchen, even as a teen.
"He was just creative in any venue," said Van Antwerpen. "It was his mom who, I think, kind of got him started cooking."
Still Time to Say Goodbye
Known for years by its advertising tagline, "A Taste of Mexico in Branford," Su Casa offers lunch, dinner and drinks. For now, there's still time to enjoy one of Su Casa's many flavorful margaritas, served up with a delicious Mexican meal. Hours, menu and updates (as well as some fun albums with recent photos) are posted at the Su Casa's official Facebook page (find Su Casa Mexican Restaurant in Branford, CT). The restaurant takes reservations and can also be reached by calling (203) 481-5001.
Su Casa will honor any existing gift certificates through the last day of business, Sat. Sept. 29, said Van Antwerpen.
"We want people to be able to redeem them. Get over and enjoy it soon," she said.
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