Juanita’s, the venerable Tex-Mex restaurant and live music venue, has new owners. Four years after they purchased the restaurant and club, Joe Cates and Jim O’Brien have sold it to Erin Hurley, Trey Jordan, Reed Lewallen, Bill Puckett and James Snyder. The new group takes ownership Aug. 1. Upgrading the type of concerts the club hosts is one of the new group’s top priorities, according to Lewallen.
Hurley has worked for and with Juanita’s for years, first as on-staff talent buyer, later on contract with his booking business Green Grass entertainment and, more recently, managing the bar; he’ll continue to oversee the bar under new management. Snyder began working with Juanita’s as director of business development for Green Grass in 2007 before becoming general manager and talent buyer for Juanita’s in 2010; he’ll continue in both roles. Jordan worked until recently as manager, business development for American Express. Lewallen works remotely for payment processor Heartland Payment Systems. Puckett, a CPA, is senior auditor at Thomas & Thomas.
Earlier this year, Jordan, Lewallen, Puckett and Snyder formed a booking company, 5zero1 Promotions. They produced the Great Arkansas Beer Fest at the Little Rock Metroplex and brought Eddie Money and Third Eye Blind to Juanita’s. The restaurant and bar took in the third highest gross in its 28-year history on the day of the Third Eye Blind show, according to Lewallen.
Expect more shows of the caliber of Third Eye Blind, Lewallen said. In recent years, most Little Rock clubs have shied away from booking mid-sized acts that require a ticket price of more than $20 for the club to cover the artists’ guarantee. Under this new regime, Juanita’s plans to buck that trend. While still mixing in local music and up-and-coming national talent with tickets in the $10-and-under range, the club has a number of shows on the horizon featuring bigger names in a variety of genres — T-Pain, The Toadies, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, members of Celtic Thunder — and ticket prices that start at $20 or $25 and climb (stage access meet-and-greet tickets for T-Pain go for $250).
Otherwise, don’t expect major changes, according to Lewallen. A streamlined menu will debut Aug. 1. More craft beer will appear on tap. Gradually, the new group will tweak the decor in the restaurant downstairs, make small aesthetic changes upstairs and try to enliven the patio area. Lewallen hopes to have an outdoor TV screen for watching football on the patio in the fall.
The new group are the third owners in six years. In 2008, Johnny and Alicia Weaver bought the restaurant and bar from Lisa McNeir, who’d inherited it when her husband and one of Juanita’s co-founders, Frank McGehee, died in 2005. The Weavers sold to Cates and O’Neill in 2010. After relocating from South Main Street to the River Market in 2011, Cates and O’Brien unsuccessfully applied for a private club permit that would have allowed them to serve alcohol until 5 a.m. In 2012, Cates offered in the for-sale category of Craigslist “World Famous Restaurant & Bar – $250,000,” saying the grind of running it had become too much of a grind for him and O’Brien.