Alumnus and restaurateur Jason Evenchik set out to perform a task usually reserved for reality TV: flip a restaurant in one month.
Thanks to Evenchik’s efforts, former gastropub Growlers is now Mexican restaurant La Casa de tu Madre at 800 Fitzwater St., specializing in accessible Mexican street food and tequila.
Evenchik, 42, owns a handful of bars and restaurants throughout Philly. The Massachusetts native spent years traveling in Europe, even managing a bar in southern Portugal, before coming to Philly in 2003.
Evenchik and his wife, a Paris, France native, planned to only spend six months in the city, but they decided to stay. Evenchik graduated from Temple with a double masters degree in international business and marketing.
He began curating restaurants in Center City. In 2006, he opened Vintage, a wine bar at 129 S. 13th St. He also owns bars Bar, Heritage, Time and Garage. Before La Casa de tu Madre, Evenchik teamed up with business partner Jay Willard to open Growlers at 8th and Fitzwater streets in 2012.
“I came in and he already had a name and a concept picked out,” Evenchik said. “There was something missing. I wanted to start with a clean slate and with something a little more accessible and fun. The whole gastropub thing—it’s kind of like the vanilla of now. You walk three blocks in any direction, you’re bound to see a bunch of tattooed guys drinking craft beer and eating wild boar sausage.”
Last year, Evenchik bought out Willard. Growlers closed Sept. 27.
La Casa de tu Madre opened Oct. 18.
“We flipped a restaurant in four weeks—that doesn’t really happen,” chef Michael Thomas said.
With sole ownership, Evenchik wanted to recreate the restaurant’s look and menu with his own vision. The restaurant’s theme is not meant to be subtle—the interior features vibrant colors, and a giant sugar skull mural keeps watch over the bar area while luchador masks are illuminated under strings of globe lights.
As for the menu, Thomas wants to make fun Mexican street food.
“It’s close to traditional but there are some things that I didn’t do,” Thomas said. “For example, our mole sauce is vegetarian. There’s no vegetarian mole sauce in Mexico, but I did it so that more people can try it. It’s sweet, rich and hearty. I took all the techniques of making it but excluded the lard and chicken stock.”
The bar houses 25 tequilas and five mezcals, liquor made from the maguey plant.
Bartender Billy Russell is happy to tell patrons which tequila type and cocktail they should be drinking based on other liquor preferences.
“I always tell people to try reposados, which are tequilas aged in oak barrels that used to be used for bourbon,” Russell said. “They’ll age for six months to a year. Reposados are almost like a whiskey. Anejos are more like a bourbon. You get a lot of vanilla and a black pepper spice to some of them.”
Cocktail choices include La Yerba—“The Herb” in Spanish—a mojito made with tequila in place of rum and cilantro instead of mint.
Russell’s tequila pointers include the fact that a tequila can be a mezcal, but a mezcal cannot be a tequila. And yes, some of the mezcal bottles might contain what is known as the mezcal worm. Yes, they are edible. No, they are not hallucinogenic.
The kitchen at La Casa de tu Madre is open from 5 p.m. to 12 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and 5 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday and Saturday. The bar is open until 2 a.m. daily.
Madeline Presland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
*Editors note: Assistant Multimedia Editor Harrison Brink is currently an employ of La Casa de tu Madre. He played no role in the reporting process of this article.