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Popular St. Pete Cali-Mex restaurant to add second location

Even in growing, the leadership at Red Mesa Group has learned that in restaurants a key ingredient is simplicity.

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  • | 5:00 a.m. August 14, 2023
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Pete Veytia III, COO of Red Mesa Group, hopes to expand Red Mesa Mercado to a second St. Pete location and then franchise.
Pete Veytia III, COO of Red Mesa Group, hopes to expand Red Mesa Mercado to a second St. Pete location and then franchise.
Photo by Mark Wemple
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Red Mesa Mercado, a St. Petersburg eatery associated with the local Red Mesa Group of eateries, plans to open a second location — with an eye to franchise more such units in the future.

Red Mesa Mercado opened in 2014 at 1100 1st Ave, North in St. Pete. It features California-Mexican ("Cali-Mex") dishes with outdoor dining and "four-minute" ticket times, says Peter Veytia III, Red Mesa Group COO.

The Red Mesa Group includes four St. Petersburg eateries: Red Mesa Mercado, Red Mesa Restaurant, Red Mesa Cantina and Quatro, a stationary food truck concept.

But unlike the other Red Mesa units, there is no inside seating or higher end dishes at Mercado. Instead, Red Mesa Mercado focused on California-style menu items as the quesabirria, which has a cheddar jack blend with brisket; the shrimp taco; and the pork Colorado specialty burrito.

The Red Mesa brand uses many of the Californian recipes Veytia's Mexican-American grandmother mastered. And Veytia says one method is that the ingredients don't have to be flown in or frozen. Much of the menu is made from scratch, from local ingredients, much like the Californian and Mexican tradition of using what is available.

"The fact that (menu items) are made every day from scratch," says Veytia. "It's just much fresher."

Red Mesa Group plans to open a second Red Mesa Mercado, whose design it hopes to franchise.
Courtesy rendering

St. Pete has taken a liking to the Mercado iteration of his family's Red Mesa local brand in the past near-decade. The crowd during many weekday lunches is an eclectic mix of locals, tourists, businesspeople, families and retirees. Near Tropicana and several breweries, the location also attracts a diverse clientele. "The first one did very well, even through COVID," says Veytia.

So seeing that he needed "fewer moving parts" for expansion, and that the menu was smaller and more manageable, Veytia chose Mercado as the Red Mesa brand to expand and possibly franchise. Thus, there will be some differences between the first Mercado and the second Mercado. For one, "it was set up so that it could be duplicated," says Veytia, referencing franchising but also the indoor seating.

And it will be opened with an eye on ease. In restaurants, especially in large operations, keeping the complications to a minimum is key, and Veytia says two or more Mercados will be able to do that with its simpler menu.

"You have to learn manage different parts," says Veytia. "There's a lot of different things that could go wrong."

The second Red Mesa Mercado will be at 6001 Central Ave. in the St. Pete's Pasadena neighborhood. which became available when two other eateries closed. Two Graces closed recently. Before that, Reading Room sat in its place. Some businesspersons would take that as bad luck, but Veytia planted a sign there, announcing the coming arrival of Mercado. 

The target date for opening is January 2024.Plans for the new Red Mesa Mercado include 250 seats and 80 parking spaces, according to a statement. Attached will also be a 20-person freestanding full-liquor bar, "an addition driven by the group’s cocktail-forward vision for the Mercado brand," the release states. 

Veytia has longtime experience in the family business. Around the time he was born, Veytia's parents opened The SeaBar in St. Pete in 1980, sensing St. Pete lacked seafood options. It ran for 13 years. The Red Mesa Restaurant opened in 1995, and the company began calling itself Red Mesa Group in 2009.

The industry thus grew inside Veytia, as he watched it up close and learned about dishwashing, bussing tables and observing local ingredients. Today, Veytia can list numerous ingredients and recipes that could make the mouth water if inclined toward Cali-Mex, Tex-Mex or Mexican food.

Veytia says St. Pete is a different restaurant market than Tampa, and is very supportive of local concepts. That may be why he hopes St. Pete will be the springboard into new markets.

"We're hoping this is the template," says Veytia.


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