Owners of a new tequila bar and restaurant at Dana Park in east Mesa say the concept is all about doing tequila right.
Owner Michael Nelson and two partners, Scott Lindsey and Christina Lampe, brought Houston-based TQLA to Nelson’s home in the Valley in mid-September.
Nelson has been a restaurateur for about five years. Lindsey has been in the restaurant business since the first TQLA opened in Houston in 2010, and is touted as one of approximately 40 people in the United States who holds the designation of certified “tequilier” – a title given by the Academia Mexicana del Tequila, AC that is to tequila what a sommelier is to wine.
TQLA features a full list of about 80 tequilas, but actually offers four of them on tap – each hyper-cooled to 5 degrees Fahrenheit when poured. Lindsey said this gets the spirit icy cold without actually using ice, which can water it down. The hyper-cooling also turns the tequila syrupy and creates a smooth consistency.
Lindsey said his hand-selected list features all 100 percent blue agave tequilas representing different varieties, such as blanco, resposado, anejo and extra anejo. This distinction separates the liquor as premium tequilas that won’t wreak as much havoc on the body as the more-common mixtos. Mixtos are tequila blends that can legally be made with up to 49 percent non-agave sugars, but Lindsey contends that the non-agave sugars are usually lower-quality cane sugars.
“The (blue agave tequilas) are the ones that aren’t going to give you a headache in the morning,” Lindsey said.
Infused tequilas like soto and mescal also make the list and complement food entrées. TQLA offers dinner pairings, and Lindsey keeps an eye out for ingredients in both the drink and the meal to create a unique combo. He provides tequila education through sampling seminars and tequila dinners to help customers understand the spirit and dispel any negative reputation. The Mesa bar and restaurant also features a tasting room that houses extra-aged tequila.
“Everybody’s like, ‘Oh, I went down to Mexico, I had this tequila shot, and I had a bad headache.’” Lindsey said. “You know what, it’s so much more than that.”
Guests at the Houston TQLA became interested in the tequila tap system and excited to learn about the beverage, Lindsey said. He anticipates a similar reaction at the new Mesa location. He also plans to change up the list, which currently hosts 80 tequilas, as new ones come out.
Nelson and Lindsey added that they care as much about the quality of the food they serve as they do the tequila, and plan to use locally sourced and organic products as much as possible. The restaurant features Southwest and Coastal Mexican cuisine with Southern influences. A wood fired grill and courses that are lighter on the calories but heavy on the flavors bring a touch of gourmet to the menu.
Lindsey said they plan to change the menu often, with the help of a full-time chef, to give their customers the opportunity to try something new and different every time they come in.
“What we’re trying really to do is create a marriage of the drinks and the food and really not let one overpower the other,” Nelson said. “Everybody can make a margarita and have enchiladas. We just try to make a little bit of a unique twist to it.”
The fusion of tequila and food puts the price point around $10 to $23 for a meal and varied prices for a drink, according to Lindsey. Most shots are $7 to $10 each and tequila flights are $14 to $50. Margaritas, palomas and other cocktails are also on the menu, and there is a daily happy hour.
The restaurant’s opening has also brought new life to a vacant building that was once home to Sautee, a restaurant that closed its doors in 2009.
“I just kept coming back here and seeing this empty building in a great spot... I saw the building and (thought), ‘This is a really cool place to have another location,’” Nelson said. And the weak state of the commercial real estate market meant he was able to secure the location at a “good deal.”
Nelson estimates that he’s employed more than 100 local workers. In addition to the original TQLA in Houston, Nelson is a partner at two Kitchen 24 locations in California. He anticipates success at this new location in Mesa.
“I think it really serves a niche that’s lacking,” he said.