A popular downtown restaurant is operating in a new location — in the basement of Armory Square.
Kahlo Underground closed its previous location, 306 Division St. S, June 5. The lease was up June 30, and remaining in the space became untenable due to COVID-19-induced revenue losses while operating costs continued. The Armory presented an intriguing option for owner Maria Estrada, and the owners of Armory Square approved her request.
She said she hopes people eventually become more acclimated with the space. She is leaving open the possibility of eventually transitioning into catering or finding another place for her business.
The restaurant is run by the Estrada family, who also operate a catering business and Maria's Taco Hut food truck.
Kahlo Underground is considered a quaint, but vibrant, counter-service restaurant, featuring modern Mexican cuisine.
“It’s working fine,” Estrada said last week of the move. “People are confused on how to come in and order. Today was a lot better than yesterday.”
Estrada is a longtime Northfield restaurateur. In 2006, the Estradas opened Mexican Grill at the current site of El Triunfo. The first day, a line of customers extended out the door and around the building. And throughout the operation of the business, lunches remained popular.
At the end of their lease, the restaurant wasn’t making enough money to be viable, so the Estradas, then with two young children, took their exit before running into financial difficulty.
After the restaurant closed, husband-and-wife Maria and Rafael Estrada continued growing the food truck and catering business. Estrada took jobs, providing food service for Arcadia Charter School, Carleton College’s Bon Appetit and St. Dominic School. She also did regular catering for Northfield United Methodist Church and Northfield Rotary Club.
In 2015, still running the food truck and catering business, they started using pop-up restaurants and other creative measures to raise funds for a new kitchen. And in April 2016, they took over the kitchen at the old Castle Rock Pit Stop in Castle Rock Township.
There, the catering business grew and gave the Estradas a foundation to work from.
Northfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Membership and Event Coordinator Jane Bartho said Estrada told her community support ensured Kahlo Underground would not need to close due to the pandemic.
“They’ve got a great following, and I think it will be a good move,” Bartho said. She noted small businesses play an essential role in the downtown district, and are easy to promote and visit.
“It’s a win-win-win, having local owners, successful restaurants and great places to eat,” she said.