Gecko's gets makeover: Family-style setting replaces Mexican fare
Toby Christianson would rather not fight for his piece of the Fargo-Moorhead restaurant pie.
"I just decided we should create our own pie," the general manager of Gecko's Bar & Grill said Tuesday.
Christianson thinks he's found a recipe for success: a privately owned, family-style eatery separated yet enhanced by one of the busiest bars in town.
For the past six months, Christianson has overseen a transformation of the 10,000-square-foot restaurant at 1515 42nd St. S. in Fargo from a Mexican operation known as Guadalajara to a wholly new concept operation with Gecko's.
"We came up with a menu that fits everybody," Christianson said.
Actually, Christianson came up with the menu -- a massive missive containing 111 items. Six months ago he handed it over to Gecko's chef Jason Thompson. It was Thompson's job to come up with the recipes.
The restaurant -- which, prior to being Guadalajara Mexican Restaurant was the American Harvest Buffet -- quietly returned to full service this week.
It's menu ranges from giant "stuffed" burgers, such as the pizza burger with ingredients cooked inside, to chicken, pasta, soups and salads, seafood and steaks to sandwiches and vegetarian dishes to desserts and kids dishes to home-style and bucket offerings.
In other words, a little bit of everything and everything a little different than you'd find elsewhere in town.
Take family dinners and buckets, for example. Dinners -- featuring large portions for sharing -- are served family style, with rolls, salads and side choices. A home-style pot roast dinner goes for $24.50. Deep-fried cornish game hen dinners are $22.
Gecko's buckets, containing chicken wings, riblets, fish and chips, jumbo shrimp or Cajun crab, are served atop butcher block paper at your table. No need for silverware.
Christianson is a hands-on investor in a group led by Robert and Norman Leslie of the Ramada Plaza Suites & Conference Center and Lexstar Development.
The Leslie group acquired the American Harvest Buffet in 1999. The senior Leslie said the restaurant's success is important because of its close proximity to the Ramada. He said Guadalajara, initially popular when it opened in 2001, struggled the past couple of years, competing with a half-dozen other Mexican restaurant offerings in town.
Christianson, a Halstad, Minn., native and economics graduate of Minnesota State University Moorhead with 10 years in the hospitality business, came aboard a year ago to rebuild the lounge side of the business. With a separate menu, Christianson and his team were eventually able to outpace restaurant sales from the lounge.
The Gecko's lounge remained open the last six months while the restaurant underwent a $500,000 renovation led by Lexstar designer Rohit Shah.
"We enlarged the lounge because of demand," Shah said. Christianson said lines of people were waiting to get into Gecko's lounge last Friday and Saturday night.
The new dining area look includes three levels, to enhance diner privacy, and a large game room for children. The non-smoking restaurant is completely closed off from the lounge.
Lounge hours are 11 a.m. to 1 a.m. seven days a week while dining hours are 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Takeout is available and delivery service will be added later this month.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Gerry Gilmour at (701) 241-5560