Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) The Missoula Redevelopment Agency gave its enthusiastic support to the renovation and expansion of a popular Midtown restaurant, saying it could help spark addition improvements in an area described as “tired.”

The board on Thursday approved a $50,000 request from Maria and Alfredo Hernandez to replace the old and inefficient solarium windows in their El Cazador restaurant.

“The windows would help us a lot,” said Maria. “All that heat – our bills go up really high with AC in the summer and heat in the winter. It's a major problem right now.”

The $50,000 request was approved as part of MRA's facade improvement program and represents a small portion of the total $1.2 million project cost. The work will expand the restaurant, make it more efficient and add outdoor seating on a covered deck.

The project is expected to increase the restaurant's capacity by 20 customers while the deck can accommodate 24 people during summer months.

“Right now, our restaurant is really small and our tables are cramped and uncomfortable,” Maria said. “(Our customers) are still used to the one downtown. We're trying to work with hot plates here.”

The Hernandezes opened El Cazador nearly three decades ago in downtown Missoula. They purchased the South Avenue property in 2017 and have already invested in an overhaul of the kitchen.

The downtown restaurant has since closed, and the Hernandezes are now looking to expand and improve their South Avenue property. Doing so won praise and support from MRA board members.

“I see this corridor of South Avenue from Brooks Street to Reserve as being very tired and in need of substantial reinvestment,” said Tasha Jones. “History has proven that projects like this have a ripple effect. There's great potential for renewed commercial use and activity in this area. I think this will do a lot to assist this area in growing and to redevelop.”

Alfredo said the restaurant plans to stay open during the work.

“We need to have our customers feel more relaxed,” he added.