A beautiful dining room hasn’t been enough to keep a consistent concept in place at the Cedars Social.
But now, three women see the space not as a hurdle, but as an opportunity.
Restaurateur Monica Greene, chef Anastacia Quinones and bar manager Leann Berry will reopen the Cedars Social this month with a focus on modern Mexican cuisine under a new-ish name: The Cedars Socíal.
“We’re really just going to play around with a lot of the flavors and apply modern techniques to it,” Quinones says. “So if you close your eyes, you taste my mom’s mole that we had for my birthday 10 years ago. When you open your eyes, you’re going to see a really beautiful plate, which is not something you’re going to see at every Mexican restaurant, but the flavors are all going to be there.”
The three women have a history together. Berry worked with Greene at Ciudad, where Quinones also applied to work in the kitchen.
“Ciudad was attracting people and chefs and culinaries like Anastasia who wanted to work there. And unfortunately, for whatever reason, we never actually called her back,” Greene says. “AQ, as we call our chef, was able to, on her own, create the kind of energy people recognized and hired her as a chef.”
Quinones later went to Alma. When Ciudad closed, Greene and Berry parted ways.
“I went to Colorado, and I decided to retire and travel, and Leann went to do her never-ending journey to create more drinks,” Green says.
Later, when Quinones was working in the kitchen at Komali, she met Berry, who was working in the bar.
“We became besties,” Quinones says.
After taking a break to have a baby, Quinones was chef for two rounds at the former “permanent pop-up” Kitchen LTO. That led her to reconnect with Berry. Together, they looked for a place to open their own restaurant. They spent three years planning until Berry came up with another idea.
“Monica was in town, and Leann was like, 'I have this idea: Let’s meet up with Monica, and let’s just pick her brain.’ It was literally just to pick her brain about our concept because there’s no one better in the industry than Monica when it comes to Mexican,” Quinones says. “We met her for tacos, and by the end of it, she was like, 'Yeah, let’s open a restaurant.’”
The meeting at Revolver Taco Lounge — “the best,” Quinones says — is what led to the Cedars Socíal.
Greene, still living in Colorado, worked to secure a space for the restaurant. Then she made a visit to the midcentury dining room of Cedars Social.
“I came in to have a drink, sat at the bar, had one drink, and I end up buying the place three months later,” Green says. “But it was with one good idea, and the idea was to be able to open the restaurant with them.”
Berry jokes that it must’ve been a good drink, but Greene is serious when she says how important it was for the three of them to open this rebirth of the Cedars Social.
“We feel we are stronger together than we are apart. Leann will make everybody happy at the bar, [AQ] will bring everybody back with her food, I’ll be recognizing and talking to people, so I think the three of us will have fun,” Green says. “We’ll be able to create jobs, create a great environment for them to grow, and we’re going to make money.”
The fact that the team is a group of powerful women isn’t lost on them.
“I know that there are struggles being a female in a kitchen,” Quinones says. “I’ve been very fortunate that I haven’t had to overcome those; I know women that have. And to be a positive influence for other women who are afraid to speak up or put their foot down or work as hard, they’re told that they can’t, there’s nothing better than to show them that, look, we can.”
Green says their situation shows progress in the industry.
“I have hired other women chefs,” Greene says. “I don’t look at sex; I don’t look at men or women. I try to hire the most qualified individual. And in this case, the two most qualified individuals that I could partner with happened to be women, which is a sign of the times.”
Greene — who owns the restaurant with business partner and fellow restaurateur Frankie Jimenez — says that while she has plenty of experience with this cuisine, the kitchen is completely Quinones’.
“We said once or twice, 'You should consider this. ’ And she said, 'No, ’ and we said, 'OK,'" Greene says.
“That was queso,” Quinones says.
Dinners will be heavier meals, but lunches will be “a completely different perspective,” Greene says. The goal is to provide a different experience for people, so guests can go to lunch and dinner and not feel they’re getting a repeat. Lunch will be more casual, with street-food-like items.
“We’ve all grown so much since Alma, since Komali, but I’m really just excited to be able to use the experiences we’ve had to create a new menu,” Quinones says.
The bar that once was topped with glasses of prohibition-era drinks is still beautiful, but Berry’s bringing a new approach.
“We’re bringing in more mescals, tequilas. We’re going to have the bourbons as well, the gins, but we’re going to start to move a little bit forward in the other direction, too,” she says. “I'm someone that does a lot of fresh ingredients and herbs as well.”
Berry will also bring the tamarind margarita, which she’s had for years, but it’s getting a new name: La Chingona — The Badass.
The team will expand the Cedars Social bourbon dinners with tequila dinners, mescal dinners and flights.
“I think that anybody that could be disappointed in the beginning because they cannot get fried chicken and waffles will be delighted to get [Quinones’] brunch items,” Greene says. “I think that it’s part of the evolution.”
“In such a wonderful city that is great for the customers to have so many restaurants, the over-saturation of the restaurant concepts are palpable. ... We are in an island, truly, we are a destination. We want to grow with this community,” Green says. “I’m sure together we could have picked numerous locations that would have welcomed us being there, but this is cool. ... I think that we understand why Cedars Social has a background and a backbone, and we don’t want to change that.”
While the menu will shift to interior Mexican food (not Tex-Mex or other combinations), the space will stay pretty similar. Water damage on the wood floor around the bar was an advantageous accident. Now, polished concrete fits in well. But the rest of the look will stay close to what diners have been used to.
“You’re not going to find a sombrero in the corner or a piñata, chili peppers hanging,” Quinones says. “If you go to a modern restaurant in a city like Oaxaca, you’re not going to see those things.”
The fact that a pretty room and some good food still hasn’t succeeded in that space in a while doesn’t cause even a hint of fear in Greene’s eyes.
“I think the same reasons that we want to be here brought them here,” she says. “So if you fast-forward to today, the restaurant has been probably five different incarnations. And this is part of the process of the Cedars.
“I hope the evolution has stopped. ... I want to be here for a long, long time, especially when we grow roots in here," Greene says.
The Cedars Socíal will reopen for dinner Feb. 16, with a goal of opening for lunch and brunch around March 15. The restaurant is taking reservations for Feb. 14 for just two seatings: 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. For more information, call 214-928-7700.
The Cedars Socíal, 1326 S. Lamar St. (The Cedars)
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