“When do you open??”
“Inquiring minds wanna know!”
“OK. . . . It’s June now. . . . When will you be opening?”
“Are you open yet?”
“Let’s go already Schenectady!”
That’s what Mexican Radio owners Lori Selden and Mark Young see every time they check their restaurant’s Facebook page. Every day brings an onslaught from inquiring minds who are just dying to know when on earth Mexican Radio Schenectady is going to open. In the past year, the husband-and-wife team from Stuyvesant has heard, read and responded to every possible variation of “When will you open?” On Wednesday, they could finally give a specific answer.
Mexican Radio Schenectady opens Monday at 11:30 a.m.
After months of anticipation — years for some — the restaurant will finally open its doors at 325 State St. Friends and family have been invited to try out the new restaurant’s menu this week, Selden said. But the place opens to the public Monday. It will be open daily for lunch and dinner, plus brunch on Saturday and Sunday.
“We’re not even open yet and we have probably turned down 6,000 or 7,000 reservations,” she said. “It’s just mind-boggling.”
The couple has wanted to open a Mexican Radio in Schenectady for years. As that news became public and their pursuit of a proper space seemed to stop and start, local anticipation grew. But it wasn’t until they had purchased the old Imperial building at the corner of State and Broadway and painted it a bright green and yellow that local anticipation reached a fever pitch.
They opened their first Mexican Radio in New York City nearly two decades ago, and later opened a second restaurant in Hudson. At 25,000 square feet, the Schenectady restaurant is more than four times as big as their Hudson restaurant and 10 times as big as their New York City restaurant. It can legally fit 575 seats throughout its three floors.
“Even 200 seats is twice what we’re used to,” said Selden. “So to start, counting the bars and the patio but not the event room, we’re going to seat between 225 and 250.”
They interviewed more than 700 people who turned out to open house calls and hired 80 of them.
“I fully expect that number to go up,” she said. “I would guess we’ll end up between 80 and 100 employees once we get into the swing of things.”
The menu will be the same as New York City and Hudson, featuring dishes with ingredients from local farms and a dizzying selection of tortilla dishes, burritos, chimichangas, enchiladas, fish tacos, rice and beans, paella, fajitas, margaritas and more.
“We’ve been practicing the menu for a couple months now,” Selden said. “We’re going to make some mistakes in the beginning, so everyone is going to have to be patient with us.”
Mistakes or not, the couple is expecting a crush of customers next week. For the first few weeks, they will be accepting walk-ins only. Once things die down, they will start taking reservations.
When Mexican Radio first opened in New York City, it could only seat 20 people in a cramped 600-square-foot space in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood. By the time they found a larger space that could seat 100, local anticipation had grown, Selden guessed, because it would no longer be so difficult to get a reservation.
“When we did Hudson, there was a tremendous amount of anticipation for that, too,” she said. “So it’s got to be the Internet. Social media wasn’t really around in 2003, you know? So now with everybody on Facebook and online, we ended up with so many questions each day asking ‘When are you going to open?’ or ‘You’re ruining my life because you’re not open yet.’ At some point we’ll look back on that and laugh.”
Local officials have touted Mexican Radio as an important piece of downtown Schenectady’s ongoing revitalization.
Selden and Young first toured the Imperial building four years ago and ended up buying it two years later from the Capital District Regional Off-Track Betting Corp. for $425,000. They poured about $3 million into gutting the massive space and renovating it into a funky space with bright-colored walls, Mexican tiles and old-world Spanish colonial décor.
The Schenectady Metroplex Development Authority provided support in several ways, including a $256,000 grant for the project; a sales-tax exemption on materials, supplies and services associated with the renovation; a mortgage recording tax exemption on project financings; and a payment-in-lieu-of-taxes agreement that exempts the owners from paying any taxes for the first three years on the property, which was assessed at $1.38 million last year. By the fourth year, Mexican Radio must make a payment that’s half of its property tax bill. The payments will increase by 5 percent each year afterward until they reach the full property tax bill.
The building has not generated property-tax revenue in a long time, since its previous owner was tax-exempt.
To see menus, visit http://schenectady.mexrad.com/location-hours/.