New owner of former Bricktown Chelinos faces challenges
Marcelino Garcia spent 25 years operating what was the flagship of his Chelino’s chain in Bricktown and has fond memories of all but the last two years that led up to his closing the restaurant in 2019.
Garcia, who has restaurants across the city, even hopes to return to Bricktown, but not to 15 E California where the restaurant occupied three floors and boasted three balconies looking out over the canal and yet another rooftop patio with a view of the downtown skyline.
The closing of Chelino’s coincided with the loss of other longtime anchors including Spaghetti Warehouse and TapWerks. They all boasted large dining spaces popular in the 1990s, but not so competitive in an era where smaller, more intimate dining venues have proven more popular.
The building spans 12,722 square feet, but the size alone wasn’t the only challenge for Garcia, who saw parking prices hit $20 to $30 a space during big events that took on more frequency in a rebounding downtown. He often dealt with thousands gathered in Bricktown while seats went empty in his restaurant. He also had customers complain about noise from the wooden floor of the top story, which has its own kitchen and was being used as event space.
The building was family owned, however, and Garcia complimented his former landlords for how they responded to the challenges of fluctuating dry spells and long waiting lists at the restaurant.
New owner Shervin Dardashti is now tasked with figuring out how to rework the building once again to become a success.
Dardashti recently bought the building, constructed in 1906, for $1.1 million. It’s the first commercial real estate investment for Dardashti, who moved from California to Oklahoma City, which he believes is destined to become the next Dallas.
“The bones of the building, its decks, are still good,” Dardashti said. “And it’s in a prime part of Oklahoma City.”
Dardashti is hoping for a restaurant rebound to occur as the pandemic fades. He is working on plans to renovate the building and divide it into separate spaces. He wants to attract an upscale steak lounge like STK, which promotes itself as “not your daddy’s steakhouse.” He also has his eyes on drawing Gyu-Kaku, a Japanese barbecue chain.
For the top floor, meanwhile, he is in talks with nightclub operator Jeff Rogers, who owns the Pink Parrot and is about to open a Mexican restaurant in the nearby Jim Brewer Building.
Potential redevelopment at 15 E California facing the canal comes as renovations are underway for new tenants at the former Henry Hudson’s and Tapwerks on Sheridan Avenue and plans remain for The Old Spaghetti Factory to open in the former longtime home of Nonna’s.
Garcia himself hopes to reopen in Bricktown but likely in a different, smaller location.
“The best time for my business is when I had the restaurant in Bricktown,” Garcia said. “It was wonderful for 20 years. The reputation I have is thanks to Bricktown.”
Staff writer Steve Lackmeyer is a 30-year reporter, columnist and author who covers downtown Oklahoma City and related urban development for The Oklahoman. Contact him at email@example.com. Please support his work and that of other Oklahoman journalists by purchasing a subscription today at oklahoman.com/subscribe.