Chains: First Calexico, now Bakersfield Cal Mex-inspired eatery making its way to Detroit


  • Bakersfield/Facebook
We ranted and raved over the August opening of the watered-down, so-called Cal-Mex concept, Calexico. Our concern, in part had to with the Columbusing of Mexican street food in the name a budding "New Detroit."

Turns out, the Mexican-inspired offerings from the NYC-based chain were just the beginning. In early 2017, the last of the available commercial space that once housed Ye Olde Butcher Shoppe (at Woodward and Watson) will welcome Bakersfield .

Crain's reports that this newest chain comes to us from Cincinnati-based parent company Thunderdome Restaurant Group. The biz publication confirmed its impending arrival through Mike Essian, VP of American Community Developers Inc. (the owner of the building). The 30,000-square-foot property also houses the Crystal Lofts apartments on the upper levels.

The eatery will open in a 4,000-square-foot space on the building's first floor, joining Grey Ghost Detroit and the coming-soon New Order Coffee Roasters (opening in December).

Bakersfield already has locations in Nashville, Indianapolis, and Charlotte, N.C., but unsurprisingly not in the actual city of Bakersfield, Calif. Much like Calexico, the restaurant touts "authentic, Mexican street fare, and a selection of over 100 tequilas and American whiskeys. Bakersfield is a spot where the food is simple, the service is warm and the atmosphere is alive."

The menu at existing locations features tacos, tostadas, tortas, and a variety of appetizers and salads. A peek at the Columbus, Ohio menu online says prices range from $3 for a black bean starter or mushroom taco to $9 for a short rib torta.

Now we admit, we've never tried the cuisine from this chain. But it seems telling that in describing Bakersfield, Essian came off as rather uninterested in the food itself when talking to Crain's, and instead more focused on the developer's goal: "to activate the sidewalk along Woodward and Watson. We think this will enhance the neighborhood — for neighbors and people visiting Brush Park."

Activate the sidewalk? What about activating our taste buds? (Not to mention, anyone who's ever been to Bakersfield, Calif. in the San Joaquin Valley can attest to the immediate instinct to run from the stench of cow manure that permeates from the many commercial cattle ranches nearby). 
This arrival of what appears to be a wave of new Cal-Mex eateries to the Motor City is curious. Elsewhere in the country, interest in the genre has been sharp decline, as Americans are venturing away from its cookie-cutter template of generic cheesy fill-in-the-blank, drowned in canned salsa, and topped with sour cream.

In fact, its birthplace of California all but abandoned the style five years ago (FIVE YEARS!), as evidenced by the 2011 bankruptcy of mega chain El Torito. Its collapse is well-documented in this op-ed in the LA Times.

So again, we ask, why is this New Detroit embracing such a tired concept? With our buzzworthy dining scene, are we not ready to be introduced to more modern or at least more interesting food trends? And for all our sakes, can we please say goodbye to encouraging restaurant chains that are named after underwhelming California cities?

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