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Published November 26, 2013, 02:49 PM

New Moorhead restaurant incentive was spurred by Juano’s interest

MOORHEAD – The restaurant that has been eyeing downtown Moorhead is a longtime staple of downtown Fargo – Juano’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine.

By: Erik Burgess, INFORUM

MOORHEAD – The restaurant that has been eyeing downtown Moorhead is a longtime staple of downtown Fargo – Juano’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine.

Juan Mondragon, owner of Juano’s, contacted the city Oct. 21 to inquire about “the possibility of moving the full-service Fargo restaurant to Moorhead,” according to an email sent from Amy Thorpe, Moorhead’s economic development program administrator, to Matt Maslowski, Moorhead’s business development and retention services manager.

The Forum obtained the emails through a Minnesota Data Practices request.

“There’s nothing to talk about because I don’t have nothing concrete,” Mondragon said when reached Tuesday.

He declined further comment.

There has been a stir in Moorhead about who the new restaurant could be since the City Council changed city policy Oct. 28 to allow it to dip into state incentives and start offering new or expanding restaurants an “employee credit” – $1,500 per new or retained employee up to a maximum of $25,000.

City officials have said they created the new incentive to lure a new restaurant downtown, which caught the ire of some longtime Moorhead restaurant operators who thought the city was going out of its way to attract a big chain restaurant.

Mondragon and his wife, Annele, announced in April that they were listing for sale their two full-service restaurants – Juano’s Authentic Mexican Cuisine, which opened in 1996 at 305 Broadway in Fargo, and John Alexander’s American Classics Restaurant and Martini Bar, which opened in 2008 at 315 Main Ave. in Moorhead.

At the time, Juan Mondragon told The Forum that he was interested in selling off the full-service restaurant to focus on developing the Juano’s Express franchise. There are three express restaurants in the metro area, including one next door to John Alexander’s.

In Thorpe’s email, she states that Mondragon “has had an offer to purchase the downtown location” in Fargo, but it was unclear from the city emails if Mondragon intends to open a new restaurant in Moorhead or simply make the Moorhead Juano’s Express into a full-service eatery.

Thorpe has said that the new employee credit is specifically targeted at full-service restaurants, and only eateries in the city’s two tax-increment finance zones – downtown or the Holiday Center Mall – can apply.

“I asked if there would be extensive remodeling involved, and he stated that there would only be minor remodeling (rebranding) required,” Thorpe said of Mondragon in her Oct. 21 email.

In a Nov. 6 email from Maslowski to Mondragon, Maslowski tells the owner that if he were to “repurpose” his current Moorhead location into a full-service operation, he would be eligible for the employee credit.

When reached Tuesday afternoon, Maslowski said that interactions with the restaurateur up until this point have been “more or less just informational.”

“It’s very preliminary,” Maslowski said. “He hasn’t made a decision either way.”

The employee credit comes out of the city’s Border City Enterprise Zone Fund, a state-funded pot of money which has a balance of about $1 million. That money also funds sales tax credits to business and helps offset worker compensation costs.

Thorpe has said that fund relies on appropriations from the state, and that if the fund is ever completely emptied, the incentives would be discontinued.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Erik Burgess at (701) 241-5518