CHAMPAIGN — A popular Mexican restaurant in Campustown plans to open a second location in the former Champaign train station.
Maize Mexican Grill expects to move into the former Cafe Luna space in mid- to late June, said Maize co-owner Armando Sandoval.
"I've always wanted to attach my business with a place that has history. The train station is the perfect place. The two dining rooms will give us a lot of options we can do with the space, and the patio is perfect for us," Sandoval said.
Initially, Maize plans to use only the northern portion of the Cafe Luna space at 116 N. Chestnut St., C, with expectations of growing into the south part, he added.
Maize proved a hit on campus from the time it opened in October 2011. Located at the northwest corner of First and Green streets in Champaign, the restaurant attracted crowds despite its tiny space.
"Everything happened so fast," Sandoval said. "We opened the doors, and as soon as we opened them, it took on a life of its own."
Sandoval said at the new location, he plans to keep the same menu as the campus location and add appetizers and desserts. He also wants to offer Mexican beers, tequila and margaritas and have live music on the patio.
Later, when Maize opens the south dining room, he hopes to expand the menu, he said.
Hours for the downtown location are expected to be 5 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday through the summer. At least initially, the restaurant will be closed on Mondays.
The campus location is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays.
Sandoval said he grew up on a small farm in Mexico, in the state of Guerrero, where he came to appreciate handmade tortillas and fresh, organic ingredients. But he also liked the street food of Mexico City.
He said Maize's menu is a combination of those qualities — "handmade tortillas with a street-food mentality."
Sandoval co-owns Maize Mexican Grill with his fiancee, Karina Benitez. They started with a staff of three that has since grown to 15.
Sandoval said he worked 18 years for his family's restaurants in Chicago but came to school in Champaign and "liked the town a lot."
"Everywhere you want to go, you can get there in 10 minutes," he said.
Sandoval said when he returned to Champaign, he started looking for a job or a place to open a business — and decided opening Maize was his best option.
The larger space at the train station should allow Maize to serve food "in a more relaxed setting," he said.
He joked about the limited space Maize has at 60 E. Green St., C.
"We've been dealing with square inches," he said. "Anything bigger than this seems huge."