When Cactus Southwest Kitchen & Bar co-owners, brothers Marc and Bret Chatalas, started talking two years ago about expanding their family of Seattle restaurants, the decision to open in Tacoma was easy.
“It starts with the long history of customers saying, ‘When are you going to open down south,’” said Marc Chatalas.
What took them so long is that they didn’t know where in Tacoma to expand their Southwestern-themed restaurant with a menu that encompasses New Mexican cuisine to Tex-Mex.
They finally have that space. They signed a lease two weeks ago to build an approximately 5,000-square-foot restaurant seating about 150 diners on the ground floor of Madison25, a retail-residential building currently under construction in the Proctor neighborhood.
They don’t anticipate an opening before spring 2019, and possibly later due to the scope of the construction project.
They looked again and again at Point Ruston, but the retail-residential development that straddles the Tacoma-Ruston waterfront reminded the brothers of their Cactus Alki location, which can bring a seesaw of diners: plenty in the warmer months and fewer when the weather cools.
“It was a good location, but ultimately, we kept coming back to Proctor,” Chatalas said.
“Proctor immediately felt like home to us. It’s a combination of Madison Park and Kirkland. It’s a great retail area and lots of families, lots of good restaurants. Ultimately, we felt we’d fit in,” he said.
The restaurant’s foundation started in 1990 when the brothers bought their first spot in Seattle with a split focus on Spanish-style tapas and Southwestern food. The brothers have a background in restaurants. When they were teenagers, they started working at Lowell’s, the Pike Place Market restaurant their family also owns. The brothers grew up in Bellevue.
Later, at the urging of his diners, Bret’s Spanish tapas morphed into a focus on Southwestern cuisine and margaritas. Today, the brothers operate five locations from Seattle to Kirkland.
They expect the Proctor location to follow the same menu and format as their Seattle locations with a well-designed dining room and a broad menu featuring regional favorites from the Southwestern United States.
The restaurant’s cuisine, obviously, is influenced by Mexico, but the emphasis is on dishes found from Santa Fe to San Antonio.
“I always put Southwestern in front of Mexican,” said Chatalas in describing his restaurant to diners new to Cactus. “When I read Yelp reviews, someone will say that it’s not authentic Mexican. I want to give them a compliment, even though they didn’t mean it in a good way, because we’re not authentic Mexican at all. They’re right.”
He added, “Southwestern cuisine is known for its use of spices, chile peppers and large cuts of meat, pork and beef, and so, when you look at our menu, you see those items that do define Southwestern cuisine.”
The menu also lists popular Southwestern ingredients and methods not easily found on menus here, such as frybread, stacked (not rolled) enchiladas that are quintessentially Santa Fe style, New Mexico-style green chile soup made with hatch chiles, queso with chorizo and blue corn tortillas. Like its sister restaurants, Cactus will serve lunch, dinner and weekend brunch. It's also family friendly.
The brothers won’t get into the space until it's ready — probably around October—but they’re already working with Tacoma firm BCRA to design the Proctor Cactus.
“We’ve been discussing lessons learned in restaurant build-outs,” Chatalas said. “Noise is a huge one. We’ve got some ideas on how to deal with ceiling heights and minimize reverberation. If you’re allergic to loud restaurants, I believe you’ll love Cactus in Proctor.”
Will there be more Cactus locations down south?
“We don’t think we’re done. This is not one store in Pierce County,” said Chatalas. “At the same time, we’re not overly aggressive people. We’re allergic to debt. We’ll want to make sure this thing works and that we’re a good fit for Tacoma. If those things prove out, we can see a fast forward. Then we’ll start looking around.”