Former Shoney’s to become Mexican seafood restaurant in Chattanooga


April 16 — Restaurant site near Hamilton Place Mall that for years has offered so-called “classic American cuisine” gets nearly half a million dollars makeover to serve a menu of Mexican seafood dishes.

“We don’t have that in Chattanooga,” said Alex Leon, the operator of the new restaurant.

Leon, who is currently renovating old Shoney’s at Shallowford Village Drive off Interstate-75 amid a cluster of hotels and restaurants, said his new restaurant will feature offerings such as octopus and Mexican sushi .

“He will have dishes that no one will have [in Chattanooga]he said, adding that such menus are prevalent in other cities, including Nashville and Atlanta.

Leon said he had run a traditional Mexican food restaurant in nearby Kimball, Tennessee for about a decade called El Toril. In addition, he was previously involved with area restaurants in Dunlap and South Pittsburg.

The 35-year-old restaurateur said he’s been looking for a location in Chattanooga in the Hamilton Place area for a few years for his new concept.

“It’s so busy,” Leon said. “It’s perfect, the perfect place for what I want to do.”

Rudy Walldorf, president of Herman Walldorf Commercial Real Estate in Chattanooga, said the old Shoney building is owned by an investor in New Albany, Indiana.

“It was in pretty rough condition,” he said, adding that Leon had already started the redesign.

Walldorf said the location is top notch with its proximity to Hamilton Place and the freeway. He said about 92,000 vehicles pass through this area daily.

The restaurant site spans 1.4 hectares and has plenty of parking, and there’s a big, tall sign that motorists can see, Walldorf said.

Leon said he plans to open the restaurant, called Mariscos Vallerta, in July. He said that “mariscos” is “seafood” in Spanish.

The restaurant owner said he was tearing up the kitchen in the existing building and planning to replace Shoney’s large sign. He expects the restaurant, which will serve many traditional Mexican drinks, to employ 25 to 30 people.

With the coronavirus pandemic easing, Leon said he believes the time is right to start a new business.

“Now is the perfect time to come back to the restaurant business,” he said.

Leon said he was born in Chicago, but his parents took him to Mexico to live until he was 17. He moved to Indianapolis where he worked for a relative, who owned a few restaurants there, he said.

At 25, he moved to Winchester, Tennessee, where an uncle owned a restaurant, and he then became involved with the Kimball site, Leon said.

He too enjoys the activity around the mall, the array of hotels in the area and the fact that his new restaurant is located near Shallowford Road and the I-75 exit.

“I was looking for a place like this,” Leon said.

Contact Mike Pare at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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