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NWI Business Ins and Outs: The Taco Dive revives Mexican Inn tradition, art studio comes to Southlake Mall, brunch spot opens in St. John
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NWI Business Ins and Outs

NWI Business Ins and Outs: The Taco Dive revives Mexican Inn tradition, art studio comes to Southlake Mall, brunch spot opens in St. John

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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.

Fans of Taco Trader in Dyer and the legendary Mexican Inn at East 95th Street and South Ewing Avenue on Chicago’s southeast side may want to stop by The Taco Dive in Whiting.

The recently opened Mexican eatery at 1452 119th St. has brought back the old family recipes for crispy beef and soft cheese tacos that built the Mexican Inn’s reputation as a South Side landmark near Calumet Park and the Calumet River, not far from the state line.

Mario Cornejo Sr. started the Mexican Inn in 1961 and ran it until he died in 2010, two years before it closed.

“It was written up in the Sun-Times,” Taco Dive owner David Jimenez said. “It was widely known for delicious food.”

Jiminez, a Whiting resident, ran Taco Trader on U.S. 30 in Dyer between 2013 and 2016 but ultimately decided it wasn’t a good fit, though it was often bustling. He ended up running pop-up restaurants in Whiting in the Indy Perk Cafe and the American Legion, the latter of which was featured in a Chicago magazine article.

He ended up taking over the former CJ Cafe space in downtown Whiting. It was extensively renovated to have a seaside look reminiscent of Key West or Margaritaville, in order to appeal to people who came to Whiting to visit Whihala Beach.

“We’re steps away from the lake,” he said. “You can continue your beach visit here. We’re tastefully tacky just like Whiting. We’re loud but our food is louder.”

In addition to traditional Mexican fare, The Taco Dive makes Mexican versions of American comfort food, including the Sloppy Jose on a telera roll and a Sonoran hot dog on a bolilo roll with beans, crema and queso fresco.

The 1,300-square-foot restaurant, which seats around 40 people, also is known for the original crispy beef taco the Mexican Inn first made in 1961. The fried taco features fresh iceberg lettuce, Roma tomatoes, crumbled cheese, specially seasoned beef, and fresh tortillas made by hand the old fashioned way in Pilsen.

“There’s a special procedure,” Jiminez said. “It’s a labor of love. These aren’t pre-made shells like Ortega or some supermarket brand. They’re real tortillas pinned by hand with three toothpicks.”

The restaurant plays music from country musicians like Toby Keith and heavy metal artists like Sammy Hagar. On the weekends it plays 1980s music videos and also sports games.

The Taco Dive also caters to parties of any size, including at the BP Whiting Refinery and U.S. Steel mills. The eatery itself can be booked out after hours for a food, beverage and movies package.

“We want people to come in and enjoy a bucket of beers and some tacos,” Jiminez said.

Jiminez located the business in his hometown of Whiting partly because he was encouraged by all the new development.

“Mayor Joe (Stahura) is making it into more of a destination than a border town,” he said. “We’re trying to be more like a New Buffalo where you can come for a waterfront meal. Whiting has the Whoa Zone, the Mascot Hall of Fame and Whihala Park. Our food is loud and so are the people. We’re a fun place where people can let loose.”

In its first month, the restaurant has drawn people from as far as Arizona, St. Louis and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Former customers of Taco Trader and the Mexican Inn have returned for old favorites like the soft cheese taco, a "95th and Ewing thing" in which corn tortillas are smothered in cheese sauce and filled with more cheese and one's choice of meat or beans.

“People take one bite of my food and they start crying,” he said. “It takes them to a better place. Their dad worked at the mill and stopped by the Mexican Inn after work on Friday to bring back a bag of tacos for dinner. My uncle’s restaurant is why I have a big responsibility to do it right. I’m carrying on his legacy.”

The Taco Dive is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, and from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 219-614-6289 or find The Taco Dive on Facebook.

Open

Busy Bees Pottery and Arts Studio is giving people a new creative outlet to express themselves at Southlake Mall in Hobart.

Owner Nakia Sprouse, who also co-owns Kennedy Avenue Chiropractic and Integrated Body and Medicine in Hammond, brought the first location of the Ohio-based franchise, mostly located on the East Coast, to Northwest Indiana.

“We are a pottery and arts studio,” Sprouse said. “We do canvas painting, glass fusing, glass painting and board painting. We have a party room for ladies nights out, when the kids are out of school or special classes.”

The studio has a kiln to blow glass, the only artistic creation that requires customers to visit more than once. The space can be rented out for special events, such as fundraisers and Girl Scout meetings.

Sprouse claims not to have an artistic bone in her body but was drawn to the franchise.

“I just really wanted to open a business that the whole family can enjoy,” he said. “This has something for everyone. It’s a place to come and be creative. Anybody can be creative.”

Busy Bees accepts appointments but anyone can walk in and sign up to create art, which can take anywhere from 15 minutes to three hours. There are more than 300 different designs they can use while painting, and they can make practical items like coffee mugs, bowls and vases in the pottery studio.

“Art is personal,” Sprouse said. “It’s what you make of it. Art is subjective.”

Busy Bees is located on the second floor of the Southlake Mall, by Macy’s.

“It’s the central hub of Northwest Indiana,” Sprouse said. “Everyone comes to the mall.”

The business closes slightly earlier than the mall itself does since people need time to finish their artworks.

Busy Bees is open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday.

For more information, call 219-525-5260 or visit www.busybeesart.com.

Open

Theo’s Dining Group opened its long-awaited Avgo breakfast and lunch restaurant at 9321 Wicker Ave. in St. John Saturday.

Owner Peter Klideris, whose parents own Ted’s Family Restaurant in Calumet City, also owns Theo’s Steaks and Seafood in Highland, Prime Steakhouse and Umi Sushi and Lounge in Crown Point, and Chop House on Wicker at 10808 Wicker Ave. in St. John.

Avgo, which has the slogan “enjoy what’s good,” offers “top-notch” locally sourced products like sausage made in Michigan, locally roasted Smalltown Coffee, cage-free eggs, and bacon smoked in-house.

Catering to the brunch crowd, it will offer Bloody Marys, mimosas, and freshly squeezed orange juice.

For more information, visit avgostjohn.com.

Coming soon

Aurelio’s Pizza at 416 Ridge Road in Munster suffered a fire more than a year ago, in early November of 2018.

The classic Region pizzeria, known for its thin-crust, thick-crust and stuffed pizzas, was originally supposed to be renovated and reopened within five months. But the restaurant has been fenced off with little construction work visible until recently, when work crews returned.

Munster Town Manager Dustin Anderson said Aurelio’s Pizza had all the permits it needed and the hold-up had been related to insurance issues.

The local chain, which also serves pasta, Italian beef sandwiches, salads and appetizers, has been in Munster for at least 25 years. Aurelio’s also has locations in Cedar Lake, Chicago Heights, Frankfort, Griffith, Hammond, Homewood, LaPorte, Lowell, Portage, Schererville, South Holland, Valparaiso and Chicago.

Open

313 Taproom is now pouring craft beers in Munster.

Or rather, you are.

The craft beer taproom at 313 Ridge Road in Munster features a self-serve tap system in which people can pour their own craft beer, wine, hard seltzers and mixed drinks. Similar establishments have cropped up across the Region in recent years, including Brewfest in Highland, Valpo Pour House in Valparaiso, and Tap House in Michigan City.

313 Taproom occupies a two-story house by Bombers BBQ. It features state-of-the-art screens that showcase what’s on tap and an outdoor patio.

“It’s always good to see new investment in the town of Munster,” Town Manager Dustin Anderson said.

For more information, visit 313taproom.com, email 313taproom@gmail.com or call 219-513-9004.

 

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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