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No liquor, no patrons, no Casa

Marcela Berrios and Karen Langley | Thursday, January 31, 2008

Adios, Taco Tuesdays and half-off pitchers.

Casa del Rio, a popular off-campus eatery located at 1705 South Bend Ave., will serve its last meal tonight after a failure to keep up with tax payments prevented its owner from renewing the establishment’s liquor license.

“I’ve been pondering it for a while,” owner Jesse Arredondo, said. “It’s just been harder and harder to make ends meet.”

Arredondo, who opened Casa in September 2004, said he is out of the capital needed to run the restaurant. Casa will not reopen unless he finds business partners in the next few days.

The restaurant’s liquor license expired Dec. 21, and Arredondo couldn’t renew it because the property’s taxes were not up to date, a requirement under Indiana law.

“You have to be current when you go to the renewal hearing,” he said.

And without its famous drink deals – such as $1 domestic draughts on Tuesdays and half-price margarita pitchers Sundays and Wednesdays – Casa saw an immediate drop in revenue.

“It has hurt me extremely to be without the liquor license,” Arredondo said.

Though no alcohol has been sold at Casa for more than a month, its billboard still advertises the specials.

“We encourage people to come in, and then explain [our] plight,” he said.

Even before the license expired, Casa was going though a rough patch Arredondo attributed to the losing season of the Notre Dame football team.

With accumulating defeats at home and on the road, some fans were less willing to pay the high rates for local lodging, Arredondo said. And local residents were unlikely to celebrate most of the season’s games with a dinner out, he said.

“A lot of factors, in the end, were responsible,” he said. “But having a poor season certainly didn’t help our economy.”

At its peak in 2006, Casa did a bustling business, Arredondo said. On some Tuesdays, when tacos and domestic drafts were each $1, a customer could find a wait as long as 100 tables.

For students, affordability and proximity were key selling points.

“I’ll miss Casa del Rio,” said sophomore Federico Valiente. “It was conveniently cheap and close to campus. And the food was good.”

“I guess from now on we’ll have to settle for Chipotle.”

Valiente said he and his friends went to eat at Casa last Saturday, and as they ordered their food, Arredondo told them about the restaurant’s financial difficulties.

Senior Brad Bitterly said that ever since he moved off campus, Casa’s dollar tacos were a quick and affordable meal.

“It wasn’t exactly high dining but the food and, most importantly, the drinks were cheap,” he said. “Perhaps the cheapness of the food made you feel like you were truly eating from a Mexican street vendor in [Mexico City].”

After Arredondo says goodbye to Casa’s last customer tonight, he plans to share a final celebration at his restaurant with those who helped make it happen for more than three years.

“We’ll close the doors and have a couple of cocktails with our friends and family here,” he said, before adding an explanation. “After closing the business. I can’t serve any alcohol during business