John Geske, the El Paso-born restaurateur behind the popular Cabo Joe’s, Nona’s Pizza and Geske’s Fire Grill restaurants, has a new establishment: The Downtowner.
Geske and partner John Bauer have opened the restaurant on the ground floor of Hotel Indigo – the swanky, boutique hotel that opened in Downtown earlier this year in a remodeled building at 325 N. Kansas Street.
“I took everything that through the years I’ve enjoyed in other cities and enjoyed at home and put it all on paper and tried to mix it up from what I have done in the past,” Geske said.
One thing that sets the restaurant apart, Geske said, is a focus on locally sourced ingredients. They have partnered with Bakka Ranch in nearby Anthony, New Mexico, which provides the restaurant with all-natural beef.
Their coffee is sourced locally from El Paso-based 2Ten Coffee Roasters and cheeses from F&A Dairy Products. They also source ingredients from Azar Nut Company.
On tap are beers brewed by local craft breweries, including Ode Brewing and DeadBeach Brewery. Spirits include Sin Vodka, an award-winning brand founded by two El Paso entrepreneurs.
The restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, making it one of the few, if not the only, breakfast spots in Downtown El Paso, where a revitalization effort is underway.
The breakfast menu features everything from a green superfood smoothie to the Brioche French Toast with Bacon.
“Dinners have been the slowest, but I think we can gain some momentum with that,” Geske said.
The restaurant had a soft opening April 7, and the response has been good so far, despite the fact they haven’t done any marketing yet, Geske said.
“We kept it quiet so we could work out the kinks, and now we are ready to rock and roll,” he said.
The menu features modern American fare, but it has a regional twist. Geske said he developed the menu, which includes some items that will be familiar to fans of Geske’s Fire Grill, like the popular mac and cheese side.
Starters include Chorizo Mussels and Ahi Tuna Ceviche. Entrées include Tenderloin Jalapeño, Hatch Chicken Sandwich, Crispy Fish Tacos and French Dip Au Jus.
Besides being an owner of Cabo Joe’s, Nona’s Pizza and Geske’s Fire Grill on the Eastside – he sold the Westside location eight years ago – Geske is also a minority partner in The Garden restaurant in Union Plaza.
The 22-table Downtowner has a casual, modern feel, with booths that are reminiscent of a diner, an open kitchen and bare concrete pillars that give the design an industrial finish.
Geske, who bears a resemblance to English actor Ricky Gervais, was in the kitchen at The Downtowner on Thursday, wearing a black apron. While in high school and college, he worked at Jaxon’s Restaurant & Brewing Co., a local institution.
With a degree in hotel, restaurant and tourism management in hand, he went to work for the Houston’s restaurant chain.
Then he moved back to El Paso and opened his first restaurant with some partners. He was just 23.
The El Paso restaurant market “has totally changed in the last three to four years,” the 40-year-old entrepreneur said last week.
There’s a lot more competition and more national chains have crowded into the market, which has traditionally been dominated by locally owned establishments and regional chains. It seems like there is a new restaurant opening every week, Geske said.
“With that, and the boom in restaurants, it’s hunker down and control your costs,” he said.
One thing that continues to keep people from visiting Downtown El Paso is the perception that parking is difficult, Geske said.
He pointed out that on weekends parking is free, and the large surface parking lot used by city employees across the street opens to the public after work hours. “It’s a beautiful setting at night, and I think El Paso is going to like it,” Geske said.