Nelson Ruiz would have been worried opening a restaurant during an international pandemic anywhere except Bel Air. But because his restaurant Mucho Gusto is coming soon to the area, he said he was not as concerned.
“Even though the pandemic certainly places challenges on all restaurants … I just believe the Bel Air people are going to respond to this and we are going to do fine,” he said. “Maybe if I was in a different location, I might be a little nervous.”
The restaurant — specializing in authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex food, paired with carefully crafted cocktails — is planning to open its doors to customers within two weeks. Ruiz did not want to set a hard date, but the restaurant will announce its opening two days before its doors open, he said.
Mucho Gusto is located in the new Bell Gate Centre on Route 1, across from Bob Bell Chevrolet, where Conrad’s Crabs opened its seafood market last year.
Authentic Mexican food is lighter and fresher-tasting than heavier Tex-Mex cuisine, Ruiz said, and the dishes are often associated with specific regions of Mexico. The restaurant offers both authentic and Tex-Mex food, and Ruiz wanted to make it affordable for all types of people in town — from new graduates to those further along in their careers. Mucho Gusto aims to have something for everybody, he said, and deliver an experience rather than a meal.
Ruiz said the restaurant will fill a niche for authentic Mexican food. Even through the pandemic, which he recognized will affect business, he was confident in the support from the local community, many of whom have emailed the restaurant to ask when they will be up and running.
“The great thing about Bel Air is that people love their food; they love to go out,” Ruiz said. “We feel like we will be welcomed and we are definitely going to bring a unique style that just does not exist up here.”
Mucho Gusto has yet to put out its menu, which will come with the opening announcement, Ruiz said. The chef plans to change the menu to keep the selection fresh but keep some staples available and source some ingredients locally. He said those seated at the chef’s counter might be the first to test new items that could appear on the menu — if they can stand the heat.
“You will feel the heat if you sit at the chef’s counter from the stoves,” he said. “That was important to us, so they could see who is making the food and see the skill and the talent that goes into that.”
That direct feedback is something Ruiz wants to focus on. He has trained servers to ask for customer’s thoughts on the experience as they leave the restaurant. Keeping track of what is working and what could be improved — directly from the restaurant’s supporters — is important to him, and a central idea to the eatery.
“We want our customers to drive what we do,” he said.
Keeping with the focus on feedback, Ruiz said he wanted Mucho Gusto’s mixologists to learn regular customers’ palates, not just the drinks they prefer, so they can make suggestions. Drinks may also sound familiar to patrons, Ruiz said, as some will be named after famous or recognizable people and places around Bel Air and the state.
The drink selection will also regularly change, but their ingredients will always be fresh — no simple syrups or sour mix in the house.
“No sour mix at all in this restaurant, and I will throw it out if I see it,” Ruiz said with a laugh.