A building that was once an auto repair shop and before that a gas station, will soon be converted into a full-service Mexican restaurant on Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale.
The Whole Enchilada, a fresh Mexican grille restaurant, is opening its second location there in the coming months. The 1,200-square-foot space just north of Broward Boulevard is the first of a few new sites scheduled for the expanding South Florida-based restaurant, said owner David Cardaci.
“There’s a lot of stuff going on around there in the Flagler Village area,” said Cardaci, speaking of the Sistrunk Boulevard redevelopment area. “It’s going to be a great second location for us.”
The new store will have a retro 1940sfeel to it to stay true to the building’s history, Cardaci said. He plans to use vintage cheese graters as light fixtures and repurposed wood from a barn from the 1890s as wall panels inside.
“People are attracted to restaurants with attitude,” said Brian Connors, a culinary instructor at Johnson & Wales University. “Concepts that are funky and not your cookie-cutter concept tend to do better.”
The company is known for its green initiatives, which include using soy-based compostable utensils and plates. The buildings use solar panels to help fuel electricity during the day.
Cardaci opened his first The Whole Enchilada location on Federal Highway north of Oakland Park Boulevard six years ago. The free-standing restaurant, which serves traditional Mexican fare, beer and wine, has grown by more than 11 percent every year since he opened in October 2006, Cardaci said.
The Whole Enchilada is growing out of South Florida and into other parts of the state. A lease is in the works for a location in Winter Garden. Cardaci said he hopes to open five more in the next 15 months.
“Fort Lauderdale will always be our epicenter,” he said.
Cardaci’s landlord for his first restaurant has gotten behind the fast casual restaurant as an investor. Dr. Joel Stein, who is a partner with the Institute for Non-Surgical Orthopedics in the same plaza as The Whole Enchilada, helped fund the project to build the restaurant’s second store.
“I thought David had a great concept and wanted to get on board,” Stein said. “There are so many of these fast causal Mexican restaurants popping up, and this one has proven it does well.”
The Whole Enchilada has several local and national chain competitors in the neighborhood. Miami-based Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, which was just sold to Ruby Tuesday for $24 million, has plans to open 50 more locations next year. Locally owned Zona Fresca, Orlando-based Tijuana Flats, Chipotle Mexican Grill, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill and Moe’s Southwest Grill all have locations in Broward and Palm Beach counties.
“We want to always be in free-standing buildings,” Cardaci said. “It helps us stand out a little more, and people can pick us out a little easier than our competition in the strip centers.”
Mexican casual restaurants, like The Whole Enchilada are growing to the point of over-saturation, Connors said.
“The fast casual segment is booming, and it’s really being led by fresh Mexican eateries,” Connors said. “It will be interesting to see what The Whole Enchilada does to differentiate itself from its competition.”