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NWI Business Ins and Outs: Craft cocktail bar coming to Highland; Oriental Buffet, Fannie May close; bubble tea coming to Portage
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NWI Business Ins and Outs

NWI Business Ins and Outs: Craft cocktail bar coming to Highland; Oriental Buffet, Fannie May close; bubble tea coming to Portage

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

An upscale Mexican restaurant and craft cocktail bar run by a beverage director who worked at the acclaimed Gibson's Restaurant Group in Chicago is moving into the spot vacated by Gelsosomo's Pizzeria and Bullpen Bar and Grill in Highland.

Entrepreneur Jose Perez took over the former Gelsosomo's building at 9318 Indianapolis Blvd., where he plans to open Riviera Maya Taco & Tequila Bar. He hired chef Lorenzo Garrido to craft a menu of southern Mexican cuisine that focuses on steaks and tacos, and he brought on Manuel Montoya from the Gibson’s Restaurant Group to curate a craft cocktail list that emphasizes top-shelf tequila.

Montoya said the goal was to bring a dining and drinking experience one might have in Chicago to Northwest Indiana.

"It has kind of a beach theme with nice craft cocktails made with tequila and mezcal," Montoya said. "We wanted to bring something elevated like you might find downtown to Northwest Indiana."

The cocktails will feature homemade syrups made in house and fresh citrus. They will include various margaritas and drinks like the “El Dia Del Muerto” that mixes smoky mezcal with green chartreuse, lime and rosemary aromatics, or “El Mar Riviera” that blends rye whiskey, coconut rum, fresh lemon juice, pineapple juice, and blue curaçao, which results in a bright blue drink meant to evoke the ocean.

Riviera Maya also will have wine, beer and a food menu will include various carne asade entrees, craft tacos and Yucatán specialties like a pork shoulder marinated in citrus and slow roasted while wrapped in a banana leaf.

"We want to bring something new to Northwest Indiana," Montoya said. "It will be an upscale Mexican restaurant where you can try something different."

The 160-seat restaurant includes both family dining and a bar area that will play Latin music, Reggaeton and classic Mexican music. It will include a private event room that can be rented out for parties of up to 25 to 30 people.

Riviera Maya will offer catering and let businesses rent out the restaurant for corporate events.

The new owners have been doing extensive renovations. They thought the Gelsosomo's Pizzeria and Bullpen Bar and Grill space was a great location.

"There's a heavy flow of traffic on Indianapolis Boulevard. There's a wide parking lot. It's a big building," Montoya said. "It was perfect."

If it's embraced by diners and those seeking nightlife, the Highland location potentially could end up being the flagship of a new local chain.

"If it's a hit, we'd love to franchise it and open more locations in Northwest Indiana," Montoya said. "We're definitely going to elevate the quality of cocktails and elevate people's expectations."

Riviera Maya is hiring, and people are invited to stop in the restaurant and drop off their resumes.

For more information, call 219.924.9300 or find the business on Facebook and Instagram.

Coming soon

Tea A’More soon will bring bubble tea and specialty waffles to Portage.

The new tea shop is coming to 2531 Willowcreek Road in the Meadows Shopping Center. The restaurant will include a drive-thru lane.

“This is an exciting new concept for the shopping center," said Brett McDermott, of Schererville-based Latitude Commercial. "The operators have been traveling and training nonstop between Chicago and New York, and I know they are going to offer a great product to the community. I expect it to get fully embraced.”

Open

America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses recently opened in the Valparaiso Market Place at 2410 LaPorte Ave., Suite 130 in Valparaiso.

The eyeglass shop sells a wide array designer eyeglass frames, contact lenses and accessories. It offers state-of-the-art optometric equipment, free eye exams, and two pairs of eyeglasses for $69.95.

Its parent company, National Vision, has more than 1,000 stores in 44 states, making it one of the largest optical retailers in the United States. Its brands include America’s Best Contacts & Eyeglasses, Eyeglass World, Vision Centers and Vista Opticals.

Open

Northwestern Mutual has moved from just off Broadway in Crown Point to the former Times of Northwest Indiana office at 2080 N. Main St., Suite 2.

Milwaukee-based Northwestern Mutual offers financial services, including life insurance, retirement planning, investment advice, estate planning and asset income protection. The Fortune 500 company sells a variety of products such as annuities, investments, investment services and disability income.

The firm, which occupied its old location in Crown Point for the past five years, employs financial advisers who aim to help clients reach their financial goals, such as saving enough money to send their kids to college.

For more information, call 219.525.1906 or visit crownpoint.nm.com.

Closed

Oriental Buffet on U.S. 30 in Merrillville has served its last plate of sweet and sour chicken.

The restaurant served Chinese food and sushi at 938 81st Ave. in Merrillville. It was a local landmark that put up a highly visible marquee saying "God Bless America" on the busy highway after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Oriental Buffet offered Gyoza-style pot stickers, egg rolls and other Chinese fare, as well as all-you-can-eat sushi rolls.

It's now closed, the doors are locked, and the phone number is disconnected.

Closed 

The Fannie May Fine Chocolates shop at 17245 Torrence Ave. in Lansing left customers looking for Valentine's Day sweets in the lurch.

The store closed, the sign has been taken down, and the phone number is disconnected.

The 100-year-old Fannie May retail chain is a Chicagoland icon, with stores in Highland, Homewood, Schererville, Merrillville and Michigan City that remain open. 

Closed

Zip Foods, a convenience store at 7208 W. 132nd Ave. in Cedar Lake, is closed.

Indiana Excise Police had seized nine counterfeit vaping boxes from the store after a customer complaint in October.

The Indiana Alcohol & Tobacco Commission approved a 30-day suspension of Zip Food's tobacco certificate and a $1,000 fine during its January meeting, commission spokeswoman Lindsay Hyer said.

Joseph S. Pete's memorable stories from 2019

There are too many to choose from, as I can be quite prolific, but here's a look at some of the favorite stories I covered in 2019.

If you've got tips about new stores or restaurants anywhere in the Region, or just wonder what's under construction somewhere, contact NWI Business Ins and Outs columnist Joseph S. Pete at joseph.pete@nwi.com or 219.933.3316.

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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