Opening day for is today, after construction began in early April at the next to .
The opening marks the mall’s newest tenant with a liquor license, which is shared by Benihana, whose owner Hassan Halani also owns El Chico Café.
Halani said the idea to bring El Chico to Ocean County first emerged more than two years ago, after he visited a location elsewhere and fell in love with the food. He decided to bring the franchise to New Jersey, building it next to his Benihana restaurant in the same corridor with on the Oak Avenue side of the mall.
The restaurant, a Mexican cantina, is the first El Chico in New Jersey.
The 5,600 square foot cantina-style restaurant was fully staffed yesterday as hosts, servers and managers came around often to check on guests during opening day. The lunch crowd was a mix of mall shoppers: families, groups of friends and folks on lunch break in tables and booths. A full service bar was cranking out specialty margaritas and Mexican draft beer.
Staffers promised outdoor dining seating would be forthcoming, and that happy hour and late-night specials had yet to be finalized.
Owners said the restaurant will bring approximately 60-70 full-time and part-time positions to Toms River. A “join our team” banner hung outside the eatery.
El Chico is open for lunch and dinner daily, and open through midnight weekdays and til 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday.