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Mike Hernandez endured a year and a half of negotiations, employees asking about their fate and no way to know if his Mexican restaurant in downtown Castle Rock, Blue Nectar, would be standing in a year.
But the veteran restaurateur wasn’t fazed. Since his teens, he has been bussing tables, coordinating shipments, managing schedules and opening new restaurants.
When developer Confluence Companies gave an offer to replace Blue Nectar as part of the Riverwalk development last year, Hernandez said the offer didn’t make sense based on their profits and declined.
But ultimately, Hernandez and his advisers agreed to a deal with the developer they thought was fair.
Then within weeks of the sale, this past summer, The Office Co. opened its doors at 230 Third St., near the site of the closed Blue Nectar.
“I think it’s a win-win,” said Tony Desimone, Confluence’s principal and founding member. “For me, the more that happens downtown, the better it is for everybody. We want residents of our building to have choices.”
Work on the foundation is wrapping up, and Desimone is excited to see the first-floor buildout. The Riverwalk development includes retail spaces, apartments and — Hernandez’s inspiration for his new restaurant’s name — offices.
Hernandez said he and his wife came up with the name while sitting at the dinner table, tossing around ideas. The idea was sudden, and the decision came easy.
Now downtown employees can joke that they’re slogging away while actually scarfing down American foods like burgers or Southern-style fish and chips.
“It just popped,” Hernandez said. “Everybody can say they’re still at The Office.”
The joint keeps loose closing hours, and the kitchen stays open as long as the bar.
“We were just there a couple nights ago, went and had dinner there,” Desimone said. “I personally want to support his business, too. It’s a small town, and I just want to make sure we get along together.”
Now that the restaurant has its footing, Hernandez has his eyes set on opening a second location.
“Our main goal is to be laid-back and simple,” Hernandez said. “We have a very nice atmosphere, very nice crowd of people.”
Hernandez’s knack for the industry sent him through the ranks, beginning as a teenager.
“I started off a busser. I was a busser for a couple months, then moved to server. After four months I was assistant manager,” he said. “I liked it and I guess I had a good feel for it.”
While some might think Hernandez had great luck or ambition, he chalks it up to simple boredom, saying there was nothing better to do at the time.
At 19, he partnered with a friend to open a restaurant called Puerto Vallarta. Since then, he’s established eight different restaurants.
When Hernandez goes to work at The Office Co., he pitches in where he sees fit, even if that means climbing down the proverbial ladder to wash dishes.
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