The front façade of the Lakewood, Colorado Casa Bonita
|Established||1968–1993 (original restaurant)|
1971–2011 (Tulsa location)
1973–present (Colorado location)
|Current owner(s)||Star Buffet, Inc.|
|Street address||6715 West Colfax Avenue|
Casa Bonita (Spanish; literally means "beautiful house") is a former chain of Mexican-themed "eatertainment" restaurants which originated in Oklahoma City. Only one location remains open in the western Denver suburb of Lakewood, Colorado.
There was also a northern Arizona chain of Mexican restaurants using the Casa Bonita name founded in 2003. Locations included Flagstaff, Cottonwood, Lake Havasu, Prescott, Prescott Valley, Sedona, and Paradise Valley. They were not related to the eatertainment franchise, and in 2011 they changed their name to Plaza Bonita.
Another unrelated restaurant of the same name is located in Libertyville, Illinois.
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.
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 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.
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, 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. As of 2017, the Lakewood Casa Bonita location continues to be operated by Star Buffet.
- 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 South Park the Fractured But Whole as part of the DLC the main story is focused on the building.
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 "Case 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 Business Journal. 2007-07-31.
Scottsdale-based Star Buffet (NASDAQ: STRZ) operates 14 Home Town Buffets ... and one Casa Bonita Mexican theme restaurant.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- "Star Buffet and Affiliated Restaurants". starbuffet.com. Retrieved 22 November 2017.
- "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...
- 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.
- Casa Bonita episode for South Park