A variety of tacos at el Barrio restaurant in Five Points in Athens, Georgia. (Photo/Daniela Rico)

Casual Mexican eatery El Barrio Tacos & Tequila will reopen in March after shifting to private events and hosting pop-ups for the winter months.

Owners and SP2 Hospitality co-founders Scott Parrish and Sachin Patel, who also co-operate The Pine and The Root, temporarily ceased normal operations at El Barrio on Dec. 22 in anticipation of slower business during the winter.

A key feature of El Barrio, which opened in May 2019 and remains the newest restaurant in the Five Points area, is its expansive patio, which makes up for 90% of the restaurant’s seating, Parrish said. The limited indoor seating was a driving force for the restaurant’s seasonal closure.

Parrish and his business partner discussed the idea of seasonal closures when El Barrio first opened in May, but the idea to shift to private event rentals, catering and hosting pop-ups wasn’t brought into fruition until late November. The restaurant previously hosted private events and provided offsite catering, which allowed the El Barrio team to see “the writing on the wall,” Parrish said.

“It makes sense, if you think about it,” Parrish said. “If you look at Athens, half the bars close over the summer.”

It was a success: the restaurant operated a weeklong pop-up with local waffle-donut-biscuit food truck vendor Nedza’s Waffles, hosted a handful of private events and has a slate of other pop-ups planned before March. Parrish said he and Patel are satisfied with the business model and considering making the seasonal closure part of the restaurant’s permanent identity. Parrish’s only regret is not marketing it sooner.

Aside from currently undetermined changes to the menu, Parrish and Patel are shifting the restaurant’s service model from table to counter-based. The restaurant originally planned to operate on a counter-service model, but made the switch at the last minute.

“That first seven months of operation, we learned a lot, and we’ll make the appropriate changes on the menu and we’ll come out guns blazing in March,” Parrish said.

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