After 26 years, chef/restaurateurs Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken are closing the doors of Border Grill in Santa Monica on Oct. 8.
A few days later, Feniger is also shuttering her restaurant Mud Hen Tavern, which began as Street about nine years ago. Known for its kaya toast and side takeout concept Blue Window, it was a restaurant she owned with partner Kajsa Alger.
But that doesn’t mean Feniger and Milliken, the duo once known as the “Too Hot Tamales,” are ready to retire by any means.
Feniger and Milliken are opening a new restaurant concept in Santa Monica at a smaller, not-yet-revealed location. It will be Mexican, but not Border Grill, says Feniger.
The new restaurant, not yet named, is expected to open in February 2017.
“It will be our version of what we think the next Mex thing is,” she says. “We’re exploring lots of new ingredients that are from Mexico that we haven’t played with as much, and we’re putting a new spin on what we’ve done in the past.”
In addition, Feniger and Alger are also have another new concept in the works. It will open in nearby Pasadena in November.
The latter will actually be two concepts, including one that will be “Border Grill-ish,” Feniger explains, though she’s not ready to reveal details.
The original Border Grill concept will continue to live on in downtown Los Angeles, as well as at two locations in Las Vegas.
Feniger also recently opened a version of the Blue Window takeout concept at Los Angeles International Airport, where there’s also an outlet of Border Grill. There are also Border Grill food trucks, and Feniger and Milliken do “a ton” of catering, she says.
“I still feel like I have a hell of a lot on my plate,” Feniger laughed.
Closing the Santa Monica Border Grill, meanwhile, is bittersweet, she said. With the lease up, the two decided they’d rather not reinvest in the space, which badly needed work.
“We decided we’d rather put that into doing something new and smaller, something more intimate and for the neighborhood,” she says.
This month, Border Grill Santa Monica has been serving up some of the old throwback recipes and $3 margaritas, inviting customers to stop in to say goodbye.
The chefs filmed some of their “Too Hot Tamales” Food Network TV show there back in the day, and the restaurant helped inspire a generation of cool contemporary Mexican concepts across the U.S.
Feniger says she and Milliken are working hard to find jobs for their employees, some of whom have been with the company for more than 20 years. She hopes some of them will sign on at the new restaurants to come.
“I’m in the middle of an emotional place with people. But I’ve become a head hunter to get people placed,” notes Feniger. “I feel like this is my family. The people who work for us are amazing. I would feel horrible not helping them find the next thing.”