Helios officially closed its doors yesterday after fourteen years in business. Today, the keys were handed over to trio behind Jose and Sons, brothers Hector and Charlie Ibarra, and chef Oscar Diaz.
The once beloved downtown coffee shop opened in 2002, abruptly closing in 2014 before it was purchased and reworked by the Tuscany Construction Group in late 2015 under the same name. Its most recent iteration had become a mishmash of mediocre cafe sandwiches and subpar lattes as locals lamented the loss of their cozy neighborhood cafe.
The local real estate group still owns the building, but a new lease for the Ibarras and Diaz means any last rays of Helios have faded. The restaurateurs will unveil a totally new concept for the space, and for Raleigh, in early 2017.
“Jose and Sons was our chance to express being Latino in the South through food and drink and the space,” says Charlie Ibarra of their first restaurant in the nearby warehouse district.
But the new concept won’t be pegged to Mexican food. Instead, the menu will draw from the Ibarras’ Chicano upbringing in the South and beyond, through visits to Mexico as they grew up and in cities like Chicago and Los Angeles, where Diaz spent his time as a youth and as a restaurant cook.
“We grew up in America with neighbors from different parts of the world, visiting other boroughs in different cities,” Ibarra says.
Staying mum about the exact concept, Ibarra alluded to serving “what we crave, what we can’t find here.” Already, Diaz pulls from the likes of Manhattan molecular gastronomy chef Wylie Dufresne, mimicking his popcorn grits to perfection on Jose and Sons’ menu. Ibarra and Diaz have always combined their memories with a playful palate and modern inspiration. For the new restaurant, the team draws from chefs around the country—Atlanta, Los Angeles, New York—and in Mexico—D.F., Baja California—where creative, clean techniques and fresh, quality ingredients give more subtle nods to tradition. And the traditions that the Ibarras and Diaz are exploring, now, represent a new generation of Americans. “There’s this diaspora we have coming out of us,” says Ibarra. “It’s part of a dual vision—knowing your roots and also knowing where you grow up.”
He does credit his father, Jose, who started El Rodeo in the late 1990s, for inadvertently creating a foundational business knowledge for him and his brother. (Ironically, the first El Rodeo location on Hillsborough Street closed its doors this Thanksgiving, a day after the younger Ibarras signed their new lease.) But this new venture is completely separate from Jose.
“Taking everything I’ve learned from my dad, I’m excited that we’re hitting our stride,” says Ibarra. “As a country you’re seeing second-generation kids like us getting their foothold.”
As Diaz wryly explained in a recent INDY story, “Now, it’s us vatos locos over here, and we have an opportunity. We no longer have to do what people think they want us to do.”