Last Saturday, Eater received word from a diner who was confused by what she found at the Ninfa's on Richmond at Kirby. Instead of the familiar array of Tex-Mex classics, the menu listed a whole page of tapas that included items such as arepas, cochinitas and empanadas. While they may or may not be delicious, these are not the sort of items one expects at Ninfa's. The drink menu held her answer; it read Maggie Rita's, the Mexican concept that lists comedian Carlos Mencia as an owner.
Curious about these changes, Eater reached out to Maggie Rita's other owner, Suave Restaurant's Santiago Moreno to discuss his reasons for this changes. Moreno explains why the Ninfa's name is going away and his reasons for thinking Houstonians will learn to love Maggie Rita's.
Moreno began by explaining that he's had a long history with Ninfa's. His company bought Ninfa's out of bankruptcy in 1998. The purchase included the Original Ninfa's on Navigation, which he sold in 2007 to Legacy Restaurants, who still own that location. As part of the deal, Moreno began to pay a fee to continue to use the Ninfa's name at his three locations on Kirby, Post Oak and the Gulf Freeway. After five years of paying the fee, Moreno's decided to end his relationship with Ninfa's and focus on Maggie Rita's, a concept he's been developing for the past few years.
He explains why he's moving away from Ninfa's to Maggie Rita's "Ninfa's had its time and place in the market. The food is a very good type of Mexican food, but it's a heavy product. If you can eat it twice a week, you're pretty strong. The trend now is to get into a product that's lighter, not a heavy product. So you can eat it two or three times a week."
He notes that the public's tastes have changed, too. "Our clients are old Taco Bell clients who grew up with Taco Bell as Mexican food. Their palates don't appreciate what we grew up with as Mexican food." He notes that restaurants such as Chuy's that aren't locked into Ninfa's traditional Tex Mex menu have done well in Houston.
As for the Maggie Rita's name and focus, Moreno explains that "We've found out consumer decisions are made by women. When we track what makes a woman decide where to eat Mexican food, it has to do with margaritas. It has nothing to do with food." Thus, Maggie Rita's offers a variety of margaritas and lighter fare to appeal to the women who make these dining decisions.
Despite Moreno's contention that consumers have embraced the change, a quick googling shows not everyone is excited. In this Yelp thread, one consumer felt as though he had been subject to a bait and switch, but another said he thought the food was better than expected. Users on Rockets' fan site Clutchfans also reacted negatively and predicted Maggie Rita's won't survive. Whether it will or not remains to be seen. Regardless, Ninfa's 30 year history as a local restaurant chain seems to be at an end.
· Back to Basics: Massive growth, then collapse and now rebirth returns original Ninfa's to its roots [Texas Cooking]
· Ninfa's or Maggie Rita's - I'm confused [Yelp]
· Maggie Rita's Ruining Everything [Clutchfans]
This sign is going away soon. [Wolfgang Houston/Panoramio]