Business

New taste for White Rock's Marine Drive

Jaclynn and Joel Villanueva say the recent challenges on Marine Drive haven’t swayed them, as they prepare to open Primo’s Mexican Grill. - Aaron Hinks
Jaclynn and Joel Villanueva say the recent challenges on Marine Drive haven’t swayed them, as they prepare to open Primo’s Mexican Grill.
— image credit: Aaron Hinks

Third-generation restaurateur Joel Villanueva and his wife Jaclynn are planning to boost the Mexican flair on White Rock’s Marine Drive.

Primo’s Mexican Grill, which will take over the old Cielo Restaurant (15069 Marine Dr.) building, used to dish tacos and other Mexican favourites in Vancouver for more than 50 years.

Jaclynn said they have been following the discussion regarding recent Marine Drive restaurant closures, but they view the challenge as “kind of exciting.”

“Obviously, you have to be concerned a little bit,” she said. “Seasonality-wise, you really have to watch your budget. In the summertime when you get your main burst, you obviously have to conserve that throughout the year. We’re hoping to target the locals.”

There have been many theories as to why more than a dozen restaurants have closed on Marine Drive in the last four years, including parking, cost of waterfront leases and seasonality.

Early last month, the City of White Rock started a Marine Drive Business Task Force to look into the problems, but stepped back from the idea soon after, to let the South Surrey & White Rock Chamber of Commerce and White Rock Business Improvement Association head the issue.

Chamber executive director, Cliff Annable said some 60 to 65 businesses were represented at a Feb. 28 task force meeting.

“In all my years in the community and everything I’ve been involved in, I’ve not seen anything quite like this,” Annable told PAN after the meeting.

Jaclynn said her family has been spending time on the beach to familiarize themselves with the community.

“We’ve met a couple of families that work on the beach and they’re awesome. We really want to work together. We’re going to start going to the community meetings… it’s breathing new life and it’s an experience. I think that if you stay true to your food and have great service and food, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to succeed,” she said.

According to the Villanuevas, Primo’s Mexican Grill has carved a spot in B.C.’s restaurant history.

The original restaurant was founded by Primo Villanueva – Joel’s grandfather – a Mexican-American football player who suited up for the BC Lions.

Jaclynn said their Granville and 12 Avenue location was the first Mexican restaurant in B.C., and possibly Canada – “but don’t quote me on that, that’s just something that’s been thrown around.”

Primo – an inductee in the BC Restaurant Hall of Fame – sold the restaurant to his son in the ’90s, who eventually turned it over to Joel.

“I worked there all my life,” Joel said Tuesday. “I remember starting off by clearing the tables, bringing chips and salsa to the tables. We also had a factory in Richmond, which my grandfather ran – chips and salsa. I remember taking fresh chips right off the conveyor-belt and eating them.”

The Villanuevas said one reason they chose White Rock was because it reminds them of North Vancouver, and “you can’t get a better view, right?” said Jaclynn.

The family plans to open the restaurant in early May.

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