There’s a different smell in the air downtown these days, and it’s courtesy of Hefe Rojo.
Mark Currie, co-owner with his brother, Dave, is opening the new Mexican restaurant at the site of the former City Café. They’ve enlisted chef Tony Pester (whom you’ve seen in 507 before), a total staff of 40 (15 of whom are in the kitchen), and completely changed the aesthetics and menu.
“We have a really good baseline staff that’s worked here for a long time,” Pester said. “Some of our key guys have worked here since they were kids.”
Top of the menu, he said, is chips and guacamole, a classic Mexican dish, but this time with something special taken away: 50 cents of every sale gets donated to the Rochester Boys & Girls Club, an idea the ownership not only came up with, but are passionate about.
“We wanted to keep it local,” Pester added. “Just like the produce that we buy, and the meat that we serve, and the chicken that we buy. We’re trying to keep it local.”
He’s especially proud that they’re serving farm-raised, organic chicken.
“And, we’re buying the best beef in the country,” he said.
That’s courtesy of the 1881 Hereford Beef program (1881 is the year the Brits brought Hereford cattle to the states), which is a staple of their vendor, Sysco.
Also on the menus is the savory Carne Asado Fundido, 24-hour marinated steak in a special blend of herbs and spices, served with a hot beer-cheese fondue made in-house. It also comes with grilled bread.
“It’s kind of like a deconstructed canapé,” he said.
The Carne Asada is also cross-utilized in a taco and as an entrée.
“I’d have to chime in with the lobster taco,” Currie said. It’s a “high-end” item, Pester said, with the lobster coupled with corn – what he called “a match made in heaven.”
“But, all the tacos are good,” he said.
There’s also a full service bar, which includes a long list of specialty margaritas, mezcal, and tequila.
At an invite-only preview night on May 11, the Braised Pork Al Pastor – filled with cilantro and lime rice – was a big hit. A full dinner menu will be on offer, and a full lunch menu will follow in the immediate future.
“We’re smoking our own pork here on the patio,” Pester said.
The smoker is on the patio in part to keep the mosquitoes and flies away, but it has the added benefit of drawing more customers in.
“We want sensory elements out there in the patio,” he said.
That patio is a key part of the restaurant’s ideal location – within walking distance of downtown and near the hub of Thursdays on First – because it’s the most private, least windy, and least noisy.
As for the sensory elements indoors, those were a collaborative effort between the Hefe Rojo team and Brianna Truax of Modern Design & Concepts, and include a stunning wall mural by local artist Matt of Sacred Heart Studios. Gothic-style chandeliers hold LED Edison bulbs, and muddy red wallpaper with decorative skulls welcome patrons the moment they walk through the front door.
And, then there’s the name.
“It’s interesting,” Currie said, “because we spell Hefe, technically incorrect.” (It’s actually “jefe.”)
But they wanted to have some fun with it. And it helps people pronounce it correctly, he said with a laugh.”
“It came from my brother,” Currie said. “He’s got a big, red beard. Some of the guys call him Hefe. Red boss.”
From beginning to end, Currie said, it took three weeks to get Hefe Rojo ready for the public. But it actually took the Currie brothers three years to find out what they wanted to do with the space.
“When we first opened City Café 13 years ago, in back of my mind I figured it had a 10-year lifespan, based on what it was” Currie said. “We went, maybe, three years too long with it, I felt. We knew we needed to change it.”
The future looks even brighter for Hefe Rojo.
“This one, I think, has got some staying power,” he said.