Octavio Gomez had an economics degree, a popular bar called 1914 Lounge and an itch to do something significant in his hometown.
Nick Salgado was selling advertising at an entertainment weekly in El Paso, and Rudy Valdes, Gomez’s cousin, was working as a chef in Scottsdale, Arizona.
It was nearly eight years ago when the then 20-something El Pasoans got together and opened their first restaurant in El Paso: Crave Kitchen and Bar.
Eight restaurants, 14 Downtown apartment units and a retail and entertainment center later, the prolific El Paso entrepreneurs have officially started construction of their latest venture: a three-story office and retail complex called DownTI:ME.
“I hate when people say, ‘Why can’t we be like Austin?’ I want other cities to say, ‘Why can’t we be like El Paso,’” Gomez says.
DownTI:ME is located in the Montecillo urban village being developed along North Mesa on the Westside by El Paso-based EPT Land Communities. The company is a major investor in DownTI:ME and has partnered with the three entrepreneurs on the project.
The owners struggle to describe exactly what DownTI:ME is. But that the project defies definition, may be the point.
It will have office space but is not an office building, they said. It will be hip but not hipster. It will help young, local entrepreneurs get their ideas off the ground but is not a business incubator. Offices will be small and tenants will be able to take advantage of public space, but it’s not a flexible workplace.
“It is about giving people the opportunity to lease a space without having to rent a 1,200-square-foot space in a strip mall,” Gomez says.
There will be offices for lease as small as 150-square feet with rents to match, according to executives.
What is clearer is that Pan y Agua, the company operated by the three entrepreneurs, and EPT Land intend to challenge the status quo and what it means to work at the office.
If they wanted to, somebody could live in an apartment, start a business in an office at DownTI:ME less than 100 feet away, and play at the shops, restaurants and cantina next door at the TI:ME center – all without getting in a car.
The Montecillo development is a product of the New Urbanism movement that began in the 1980s. The idea is to return to a type of development that predates the explosion of the suburbs – main streets lined with multi-story shops, public gathering spaces and pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods.
“What we are finding at Montecillo is people really want to be in a mixed-use situation,” says Ricky Aguilar with EPT Land Communities.
Construction started last week on DownTI:ME, which was named for its location on a vacant lot behind and below TI:ME at Montecillo, the quirky retail and entertainment complex on North Mesa Street. Built in part from shipping containers, TI:ME was opened by the three entrepreneurs last year.
“When we did TI:ME, we saw a demand for a different type of space that was needed that we couldn’t accommodate,” Gomez said.
TI:ME had retail space but no office space and some inquired about larger retail spaces. “DownTI:ME was the answer to that,” Gomez said.
The 10,000-square-foot building, described by EPT Land executives as “high-end,” will have retail on the ground floor, Class A office space on the upper floors and a rooftop patio for events. The building will also serve as the Pan y Agua headquarters.
Executives hoped to hold a groundbreaking celebration for DownTI:ME the beginning of this year, but it’s taken a bit longer than they expected to get the designs just right, Gomez says.
He and his partners now expect DownTI:ME to open when construction finishes in eight months.
Executives with EPT Land would not say how large their investment in DownTI:ME is or what the value of the building is, except to say “It’s an expensive building.”
Since opening Crave in 2008, the three entrepreneurs have opened two more Crave locations, Independent Burger and TI:ME, where they also operate Hillside Coffee and Donut, Stonewood Modern American Grill and Cantina Malolam.
Salgado and Gomez opened the Garden restaurant in 2009 with Kenji Shigematsu. Gomez opened an apartment and retail complex in an old Downtown building in 2011 called The Mix.
“I didn’t have a plan or anything but just wanted to do cool stuff for El Paso, you know?” Gomez says.
Email El Paso Inc. reporter Robert Gray at email@example.com or call (915) 534-4422 ext. 105. Twitter: @ReporterRobby.