Cafe Rio unveiling fresh interior design at new Cottonwood Heights restaurant

First Published      Last Updated Apr 14 2015 09:03 pm

Dining » Restaurant unveils fresh interior look at new Cottonwood Heights location.

Cafe Rio officials would never dream of changing the sweet Barbacoa pork or the cilantro lime rice. But they are changing the interior look of the popular Utah-based fast-casual Mexican restaurant.

Diners can see an example of the brighter, sleeker design on Wednesday, April 15, when the company's newest store opens at 6973 S. 1300 East in Cottonwood Heights. Gov. Gary Herbert and Cottonwood Heights Mayor Kelvyn Cullimore will be at the store at 8 a.m. followed by a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10:30 a.m.

The new store will replace an older Cafe Rio at 6985 Park Centre Drive.

Once the new store is up and running, Cafe Rio will "spend the next three or four years transitioning" all of its 80 locations to the new look, said Ben Craner, chief marketing officer.

The new design brings the kitchen into the open so customers can see employees making and cooking tortillas, grating cheese, chopping vegetables and cooking rice.

Because the company does not use microwaves or freezers, the kitchen "is where the magic happens," said Craner last week before the opening. "We make everything from scratch, but our old design didn't highlight that."

The new design also includes wood and stone walls with bright-colored paint, digital screens and improved seating.

Craner said a long counter with stools and communal tables will cater to business customers eating alone, but the company also will change its seating to better accommodate large families and groups.

"We did tons of research and people complained that they could scoot the tables together," he said.

Steve and Patricia Stanley started Cafe Rio in 1997 in St. George. They added six more stores before selling to Bob Nilsen in 2004. During the past decade, Nilsen and his team have expand Cafe Rio to include 80 restaurants in 11 states.

The fast-casual dining concept has won numerous industry awards; most recently it was named 2014 Best Mexican Restaurant in the Nation by the Sandelman & Associates' Quick-Track Award.