Its imminent opening, D Boca N Boca has been named one of the Atlanta magazine’s most anticipated restaurants of the year, especially 2020. Inspired by owner Helio Bernal’s family ties to Veracruz and the Yucatan Peninsula, D Boca was set to begin serving Mexican cuisine in Summerhill in May 2020. It turned out to be bad weather. But even in non-pandemic times, restaurant openings often face delays that can span months or even years.
Bernal knows how unpredictable the food and beverage industry can be: he was brought up in it. Her father, who emigrated from Mexico in the early 1980s, ran a food distribution center in Chicago for two decades. They moved the family business to Atlanta in 2000. Bernal recalls traveling to Atlanta as a child, napping between boxes of dry goods in the back of his father’s truck. “I grew up in the business – from being a kid driving a forklift, knocking over pallets and causing thousands of dollars in damage, sweeping the warehouse, driving trucks,” he says.
In 2017, Bernal launched a food truck called the Real Mexican Vittles, then added four more vehicles to its fleet within a year, serving tacos and tamales at subway breweries. The trucks would be the engine that kept Bernal’s business moving — and solvent — on the twisty road to its first brick-and-mortar. Bernal was dreaming of opening a taqueria when, in 2018, he walked past an empty storefront on Georgia Avenue. A few months later, he signs a lease, hires a contractor, and delivers his design plans to the city of Atlanta. “It’s 2019 and life is good,” he recalls thinking, as he poured his life’s savings into renovating the 1,800 square foot space. What could go wrong?
The long and winding road
March 2019: Bernal signs the lease for a space at 39 Georgia Avenue. Left empty for several years, the building needs a total renovation, as well as a kitchen and a bar.
August 2019: Contractor hired. “If it was a movie, that’s where it all goes wrong,” Bernal says.
October 2019: Design plans submitted to the city for approval. Secure building permit sender to ensure the paperwork process goes smoothly.
November 2019: License approved.
January 2020: First blow of the pickaxe on the new space.
March 2020: [oh shit]
April-June 2020: Construction interrupted on DBNB. Nobody knows what’s going on.
June 3, 2020: Bernal is spending his 30th birthday in isolation with Covid.
July 2020: With the pandemic underway, the owner of DBNB is suspending rent collection for the remainder of the year. Bernal continues the construction.
November 2020: Bernal begins designing the space and orders furniture from Mexico.
January 2021: Start paying rent on the space.
March 2021: The furniture and decoration come from Mexico.
April 2021: The kitchen does not pass what is called a light test because the range hood vents are not up to code. A lot of things are not up to code?
May 2021: Collect grandma’s handwritten recipes, start designing the menu.
July 2021: New contractor hired.
August 2021: The new contractor removes the old 18-inch duct from the hood vent and installs a new 24-inch one, costing $94,500. “I think I passed out here,” Bernal said.
August 2021: Collect the other grandmother’s handwritten recipes.
September 2021: The contractor asks Atlanta Gas Light to install a gas meter.
November 2021: Gas meter still uninstalled, Bernal calls to see what the hold-up is. The entrepreneur forgot to specify which suite. “So all that time – two, three months of waiting – is just because he didn’t put an ‘A’,” Bernal says. “Are you kidding me?”
December 2021: Gas meter installed. An inspector visits and tells Bernal that he needs to paint the gas lines outside the building yellow.
December 2021: The contractor paints the gas lines yellow inside the building.
January 2022: Somewhere along the way the hot and cold water pipes have been reversed so there is no hot water. The kitchen also does not pass the “balloon test” and the fire extinguishing system must be reinstalled.
January 2022: Bernal’s expenses officially double what he had planned for the construction.
February 8, 2022: Balloon test passed. “Everything is golden and the inspector signs. I’m like, I just wanna open up“, explains Bernal. “He’s like, I just want to get out of this building. Do you know how many times I came here?”
February 24, 2022: The health inspector must visit but does not.
February 28, 2022: The health inspector approves the permit.
March 2022: Bernal realizes that some of the furniture he bought a year ago is missing?
March 14, 2022: The city of Atlanta grants a certificate of occupancy — meaning the space is finally ready to move in — but Bernal decides to delay the opening until he gets his liquor license. “I’ve been at a standstill for two and a half years,” he says. “I think an extra week will be fine.”
April (?) 2022: Bernal is approaching the finish line, in a way: “Because once we’re done, we have to start preparing food. It will be another roller coaster.
D Boca N Boca is set to open this summer – stay tuned for more information.
This article originally appeared in our May 2022 issue.