WINTER PARK – When Tiffany Barganier walked into the bar, there were 20 men idling in there. As it turned out, she got there just before the big rush.
“When I came in here at 4 o’clock, I was expecting to walk into craziness because it was Cinco de Mayo,” Barganier said. “By 5:45 it was like a sea of people. It was awesome. It was a fun time.”
Barganier is a bartender at Cocina 214, the new upscale Mexican restaurant in Winter Park, right off the fashionable Park Avenue shopping district. It made perfect sense for a new Mexican restaurant to hold its grand opening on Cinco de Mayo, the celebration of Mexican heritage and pride, but the staff at Cocina 214 had little to be disappointed about on Thursday, when the crowds flocked to check out this new dining establishment.
“I seriously felt like I didn’t go home last night,” Barganier said. “We were prepared for it, which was good. We didn’t run out of anything.”
Cocina 214 Restaurant & Bar was the brainchild of Russ Greer, who opened the restaurant after convincing a group of local investors that this was a concept that most big cities already have to offer.
“You see this in all the big cities,” he said. “You’ve got higher end Mexican. Every big city has them. They’re typically the toughest ones to get into.”
It was also, he said, a way to attract more people to Winter Park’s downtown.
“It’s another good traffic generator for Winter Park,” Greer said. “It’s all local Winter Park people who invested, and we feel like we’re doing something good for the community.”
It helps, for example, that in an economy that’s still coming out of a recession, Cocina 214 has created jobs – so many, in fact, that General Manager Oscar Gaona said he hasn’t finishing training them all yet.
“We’re working on staff, too, but there’s a lot of good people here,” Gaona said. “It’s tough right now, but we’re going to get there.”
“Every night we’re training people,” Greer added, although he said he has great faith in Gaona, thanks to the years of experience he has in the restaurant industry.
“He knows what excellent service is,” Greer said. “He knows the Mexican cuisine and he knows good service.”
Cocina 214 is at 151 Welbourne Avenue East in Winter Park, right in the heart of the the Park Avenue district.
As the menu notes, “Cocina 214 introduces a world-class, chef-driven culinary experience with a spirited, delicately balanced menu of Mexican classics and new favorites.”
The timing with the Cinco de Mayo celebration couldn’t have been better. The opening night brought in the kind of crowds that restaurants have been starving for since the Central Florida housing market started to tank in 2008.
“It was crazy last night,” Greer said, on the same morning that the government announced that the nation’s employment picture had gotten much brighter in April, adding 268,000 new jobs in the private sector.
“You should have seen it last night,” Greer said. “I was behind the bar from 5:30 on, and I said ‘I think we’re going to run out of everything.’ It was a great turnout.”
The restaurant seats 270, and it got so crowded in the bar alone that “We didn’t even serve food in here,” Greer said. “We didn’t serve it outside, either, just in the dining area.”
To help keep the customers happy, Greer invested in equipment by Commercial Beverage and Ice Services, which maintains their beer at a frosty 28 degrees as it comes out of the tap.
“I’m a fan of ice cold beer,” he said. “That was one demand I set. It could be 65 degrees in the kitchen and you could still serve the beer at 28 degrees.”
In addition to the bar, there’s an outdoor seating area and a spacious main dining room with a view of the kitchen, where patrons can watch the chefs prepare meals.
“The open kitchen is a little unique,” Greer said. “And the dining room is a little more unique than a bunch of tables in a restaurant. It’s a little edgy.”
There’s also a private dining room that seats up to 60 people.
To learn more or to make reservations, call 407-790-7997 or log on to www.Cocina214.com. Take out service is available.
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