Pepitos, Parkway Theater buildings purchased; El Burrito Mercado taking over restaurant space

The ol' Pepitos, left, and the Parkway Theater

The ol' Pepitos, left, and the Parkway Theater Google Street View

Major news at 48th Street and Chicago Avenue in south Minneapolis: The longtime Pepitos building and the adjoining Parkway Theater have been sold, and St. Paul's El Burrito Mercado will take over the restaurant space. 

The new El Burrito Mercado location -- dubbed El Burrito Minneapolis -- will likely open in mid-May; the historic Parkway is being revamped and will reopen June 1, according to investor/entrepreneur Ward Johnson, who purchased the properties with his business partner, Eddie Landenberger.

"My wife and I had our first date at Pepitos, and fittingly in 2001 it’s where I proposed," Johnson says in a press release issued late Wednesday.

"Our goal is to restore the Parkway Theater to its former glory and bring new energy to the space through renovation, curated movie and speaker series, contemporary chamber music, and more," adds Landenberger.

Johnson declined to reveal the terms of the deal; both properties were listed last fall for a combined $1.5 million asking price. 

On the restaurant side, one Twin Cities Mexican institution is replacing another. Pepitos owner Joe Minjares opened Old Colonial Pub & Pizza in 1971, eventually rebranding and shifting the menu toward his mother's tacos. El Burrito Mercado is a staple on St. Paul's West Side, and it's still owned by the Silva family, which opened the place in 1979.

"It’s bittersweet to say goodbye,” Minjares says in a statement. “But I feel like I’m leaving things in good hands, and there’s a bit of serendipity to be handing over the reins of the restaurant to another family-owned Mexican restaurant with a long history in the Twin Cities."

So, south Minneapolis, what exactly are you getting with El Burrito Minneapolis? Oh, just the 7th most-essential restaurant in the Twin Cities, if we're to believe City Pages. Plus its elote-style roasted corn, one of 25 dishes that define St. Paul, per the Pioneer Press.

Here's former CP food critic Mecca Bos rhapsodizing El Burrito Mercado: 

Maybe it was pan dulces braided and shining like Princess Leah's hair buns, fiery salsas to make steam puff from your ears, or stacks of corn tortillas when the only other way to procure was to buy them off a Mexican grandma's doorstep. Anyone who grew up in St. Paul probably also grew up on some kind of something from El Burrito Mercado.

CEO Milissa Silva-Diaz, whose parents founded El Burrito Mercado, currently runs the business alongside her sister and niece. El Burrito Mercado operated a mini Minneapolis outpost inside Midtown Global Market from 2012 through 2015. 

El Burrito Minneapolis will maintain the same bar/restaurant layout as Pepitos, Johnson says. Expect plenty of cosmetic updates plus the addition of a grab-'n'-go deli counter. 

As for the Parkway, Johnson hopes to rejuvenate the 87-year-old venue and expand its offerings. 

"The theater has one of the only 35mm projectors in the city, and we’d like to continue showcasing classic and cult movies," he says. "As far as live music, we’d like to get the room looking and sounding great, and create a seated, performer-centric venue where the focus is on the music. Because we’re also a movie theater, we hope the ability to incorporate mixed-media and video will attract creative uses of the stage and screen by performers."

Click here to read a heartfelt farewell from Minjares, who put Pepitos and the Parkway up for sale last year amid ongoing health and tax concerns. He closed the restaurant last December, but his Pepitos Mexi-Go Deli remains open at 4624 Nicollet Ave.