|Established||1968–1993 (original restaurant)|
1971–2011 (Tulsa location)
1973–present (Colorado location)
|Owner(s)||Star Buffet, Inc. (2007-2021)|
Trey Parker and Matt Stone (2021–present)
|Street address||6715 West Colfax Avenue|
Casa Bonita (Spanish for "pretty house") is a former chain of Mexican-themed "eatertainment" restaurants which originated in Oklahoma City. The last restaurant in the former chain is located in Lakewood, Colorado, at the JCRS (Jewish Consumptives' Relief Society)) Shopping Center, now known as the Lamar Station Plaza. The building is open for tours only, after the State of Colorado ordered all restaurants in the state to close in March 2020 as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Founder Bill Waugh opened the first Casa Bonita restaurant in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, in 1968. By the mid-1970s, the chain had expanded to locations in adjacent states and was known for its "all you can eat" beef or chicken plates and offering sopapillas—small squares of fried bread served with honey—with every meal.
In 1982, the company (including Taco Bueno fast food restaurants) was sold to Unigate (now Uniq plc). In 1992, Unigate sold the restaurants to CKE Restaurants, owners of Carl's Jr. In 1997, the two remaining Casa Bonita restaurants were spun off by CKE as part of Star Buffet. The Tulsa location closed in September 2005, then reopened for a 2-year run under the name Casa Viva, and went out of business in December 2007. Casa Bonita was reopened by Star Buffet under the original name in late July 2008. In March 2015, it was announced that the Lakewood Historical Society decided to make the restaurant a historic landmark of the city.
On April 6, 2021, Casa Bonita filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States Bankruptcy Court for the District of Arizona. In August 2021, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of South Park, announced that they had struck a deal to purchase the restaurant. On September 23, Parker, Stone, Casa Bonita Inc., and The Beautiful House LLC (company related to Parker and Stone), struck a sale agreement for $3.1 million, making Summit Family Restaurants lose the bid at the same time. Judge Michael E. Romero of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court still has to sign the deal. A group named Save Casa Bonita filed an objection to Parker and Stone's sale agreement, because they put a sale offer first, making it up to the court. The objection to the sale was later withdrawn. On November 4, the sale agreement was officially signed by the judge. On November 17, they hired their first employee, Chef Dana Rodriguez. They officially owned the restaurant as of November 19.
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
The first Casa Bonita was opened in the summer of 1968 in Oklahoma City, at a time when Mexican food was considered a novelty in the area. The restaurant was located along U.S. Route 66 at the intersection of NW 39th and Portland. On opening, it featured themed rooms, including the Garden Room and El Pokey, a room themed as a Mexican jail. The Oklahoma City location closed in 1993. After housing other businesses, the building was demolished in 2015.
The Tulsa location opened in 1971 near the intersection of 21st and Sheridan. The interior was designed to create the outdoor nighttime atmosphere of a Mexican village. Its various themed dining areas, with seating for over 500, included a village square with fountain, a 2-level lantern-lit cave, a tropical garden with 20-ft waterfall and stream, and a room resembling an aristocratic dining hall with a porch along with strolling mariachis. The Tulsa location also included a puppet and magic show theatre, a video arcade, a working carousel, and a gift shop.
It closed on September 30, 2005, due to a reported inability to reach suitable lease terms with the property owner. It was reopened, as Casa Viva, in May 2006 and then closed again in December 2007. In late July 2008, the restaurant, having been sold back to its previous owner group, reopened under the original Casa Bonita name. In February 2011, the restaurant failed to reopen after lengthy snowstorms hit Tulsa, and a sign on the door said it was closed for business.
Little Rock, Arkansas
The Little Rock location opened in 1969 at the corner of University Avenue and Asher Avenue (at the time U.S. Highway 67/70), just south of the University of Arkansas-Little Rock campus. This location had many of the same features as its sister locations including a Garden Room, an El Pokey (a room themed as a Mexican jail), a fully functioning video arcade, and a gift shop. In its heyday, the Little Rock location was reported to have been the highest volume Mexican restaurant in the United States with annual sales of up to $2,500,000. That distinction would later go to the Denver location which would go on to post nearly $8,000,000 in sales on an annual basis.
The restaurant closed and rebranded under the ownership of the Waugh family as "Casa Viva" on August 2, 1993, after a reported $250,000 was spent in renovations. It would revert to the original Casa Bonita branding in 1995, until closing permanently in 2005.
The Lakewood location was built in 1973 and opened in early 1974 on Colfax Avenue west of Denver, along U.S. Route 40/I-70 Business. Similar in architecture to the Tulsa location (both were previously large retail store locations), the Lakewood restaurant seats over 1000 people at a time, and features strolling mariachis, flame jugglers (no longer allowed in 2019 for violating fire code), and a 30-foot (9.1 m) waterfall with cliff divers. It also has a small puppet theater, a "haunted tunnel" called Black Bart's Cave, an arcade with a large skee-ball room, and a magic theater. It was designated a historic landmark of the city in March 2015.
In March 2020, the Lakewood location closed temporarily due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Colorado Governor Jared Polis stopped in-person dining for a two-month span from March 17 to May 26. In March, several employees reported that their most recent paychecks had bounced due to insufficient funds in the payroll account of Casa Bonita. The restaurant's website disappeared during the summer of 2020 sometime between July 7 and July 30. As of September 2020, the restaurant is still closed "due to Colorado-mandated regulations" during the pandemic.
- Hulen Mall, Fort Worth, Texas (1982–1985)
- Little Rock, Arkansas (1969–1993) (1995–2005)
- Casa Bonita founder Bill Waugh founded a similar restaurant concept, Casa Viva. Unrelated to the Florida fast-food chain of the same name, it operated in the former Casa Bonita locations in Little Rock (1995–2005) and Tulsa (2006–2007).
- Larry H. Miller, owner of the Utah Jazz, opened a restaurant called The Mayan Adventure (usually just shortened to The Mayan) in Sandy, Utah, in 2000. Casa Bonita sued Miller for trademark infringement; Miller was found to have visited Casa Bonita several times. The Mayan Adventure eventually closed in late 2011.
- Restaurante Arroyo, in Tlalpan, Mexico, a "super-size" Mexican restaurant.
In popular culture
The South Park episode "Casa Bonita" prominently features the Colorado branch of the restaurant. Other episodes that mention it briefly are: "Quest for Ratings" (where a clock is labeled as showing the time at Casa Bonita), "You Have 0 Friends", "201" (where the restaurant is reportedly destroyed), and "Let Go, Let Gov". Additionally, the building that houses South Park Studios was named after the restaurant. In August 2021, the show's creators, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, announced that they had struck a deal to purchase Casa Bonita.
In South Park: The Fractured But Whole, as part of the DLC, the main story is focused on the building.
The South Park connection comes about as the creators of the show and several staff of South Park recalled having fond memories frequenting the establishment as children in the Denver suburbs.
In Eureka, a reference to "Casa Bonita" is made, where an "artificial intelligent" love-struck Andy, who is the deputy of the town Sheriff in the new alternate timeline, regards the sheriff's "artificial intelligent" house S.A.R.A.H. as his "Casa Bonita" when stuck on Titan (Saturn's moon) by an accidental journey using the series' fictional "faster-than-light" technology.
- "Star Buffet inks deal with 4B's Restaurants". Phoenix.bizjournals.com. Retrieved 2021-12-30.
- "Casa Bonita Sale: Bankruptcy Judge Clears The Way For 'South Park' Creators Trey Parker And Matt Stone To Buy Iconic Restaurant – CBS Denver".
- Calhoun, Patricia. "You Can't Go to Casa Bonita, but Its Employees Could Be Coming to You". Westword.
- Zimmerman, Martin (1996-08-29). "Unigate sells Taco Bueno chain to Carl's Jr. parent". The Dallas Morning News. Newsbank ID 0ED3D6CA43269EF9.
- Johnson, Greg (1997-07-29). "CKE Plans to Serve Up Buffet-Style Chain". Los Angeles Times. p. 12D.
CKE, parent company of Carl's Jr. and Hardee's burger chains, said that Star Buffet Inc. will be composed of CKE's 16 HomeTown Buffets and two Casa Bonita...
- Blossom, Debbie (2005-09-29). "Casa Bonita says adios to Tulsa". Tulsa World.
- Postelwait, Jeff (2008-07-19). "Fun-filled Casa Bonita to reopen: The original owners of the restaurant have returned". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
- Lynn, Nate (2021-04-11). "Casa Bonita files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy". KUSA-TV. Retrieved 2021-04-11.
- Parker, Ryan (2021-08-13). "'South Park' Creators Strike Deal to Buy Casa Bonita, Restaurant Featured on Show". Hollywood Reporter.
- McCormick-Cavanagh, Conor (2021-09-27). "South Park Creators Buying Casa Bonita for $3.1 Million". Westword. Retrieved 2021-09-27.
- "'Save Casa Bonita' objects to sale of restaurant to South Park creators". 19 October 2021.
- "Save Casa Bonita Withdraws Objection to Sale of Restaurant to South Park Creators".
- "Casa Bonita Partners With Dana Rodriguez, Acclaimed Denver Chef & Restaurateur – CBS Denver".
- Stafford, Jim (1993-09-02). "City Casa Bonita To Close Doors After 26 Years". The Daily Oklahoman. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
- Bailey, Brianna (2015-09-16). "Bonita memories". The Oklahoman. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
- Maloney, Lee. "Casa Bonita: A Family Favorite". FabulousTravel.com. Archived from the original on 2005-12-30. Retrieved 2005-12-30.
- Cherry, Scott (2006-06-23). "Dining Out: Back in the house". Tulsa World.
- Arnold, Kyle (2011-02-17). "Casa Bonita restaurant says adios to Tulsa: Its owner, Star Buffet Inc., is apparently in financial straits". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
- "Casa comeback: original owners revive landmark restaurant, plan expansion of hamburger chain into Little Rock. - Free Online Library". www.thefreelibrary.com. Retrieved 2021-03-17.
- Meitus, Marty (1994-03-15). "Casa Bonita at 20... Denver's Favorite Dive-In Restaurant". Rocky Mountain News. NewsBank ID 0EB4DE0EDFFFEE6D.
- Briggs, Austin (2015-03-20). "Casa Bonita named Lakewood Historical Society Landmark". The Denver Post. yourhub.com. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
- Sexton, Josie (April 3, 2020). "Casa Bonita workers say their checks have bounced, pay is missing". Denver Post.
- "Casa Bonita Website". Casa Bonita Denver. Archived from the original on 2020-07-07.
- "Casa Bonita Website". Casa Bonita Denver. Archived from the original on 2020-07-30.
- Antonation, Mark (2020-09-03). "Will Casa Bonita Ever Reopen?". Westword. Retrieved 2020-09-19.
- "Wild is the word for Wild West Outfitters' Hulen Mall unit". Daily News Record. 1994-01-05.
Wild West Outfitters' new store at the Hulen Mall in Fort Worth, TX, ... [occupies] more than 20,000 sq ft (1,900 m2) of what was once a Casa Bonita restaurant...
- Eyrich, Claire (1982-05-21). "Something for all tastes". Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Karash, Julius (1985-04-06). "Casa Bonita in Fort Worth is up for sale". Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
- Pemberton, Tricia (2005-10-02). "After 34 years, Casa Bonita says farewell; Landmark restaurant in Tulsa closes". The Daily Oklahoman.
Casa Bonita restaurants in Oklahoma City and Little Rock, Ark., closed in 1993, with then-owner Black-Eyed Pea Management Corp. cited declining revenues.
- Blossom, Debbie (2005-10-01). "Casa Viva restaurant on menu". Tulsa World.
- Blossom, Debbie (2006-05-27). "Brand new Casa". Tulsa World. Retrieved 2011-02-17.
- "Jazz owner Miller sued over Restaurant". Associated Press. 2000-07-05.
- Colden, Anne (2000-07-04). "Casa Bonita sues 'copycat'". Denver Post. p. C1. Newsbank ID 0EAF457DBA96D654.
- Fidel, Steve. "Economy takes down Mayan Adventure, Spaghetti Mamas restaurants". www.ksl.com.
- "Casa Bonita episode for South Park".
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