Casa Bonita's $40 Million Face-Lift, Explained

South Park's creators will finally reopen Colorado's most embattled restaurant.

If you don't live in Colorado and/or you're not a fan of the show South Park, you might have no idea why the upcoming opening of Casa Bonita in the Denver suburb of Lakewood is such a big deal. Well, dear readers, you've been missing out on quite the journey. A $40 million dollar journey, to be exact.

The new owners of the restaurant, South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone, told The New York Times this month that they put $40 million into the restaurant's full makeover. But before diving into what $40 million gets you at a dining establishment previously known for having an arcade, a cave, and a waterfall with cliff divers, it's important to take a brief look at what landed Casa Bonita in the hands of these TV darlings in the first place.

What happened to Casa Bonita?

Casa Bonita, like so many other restaurants at the time, closed its doors in 2020 due to the pandemic, but the situation was made even more grim when Summit Family Restaurants, the company that owned the establishment, filed for Chapter 11 protection in April 2021. The possible permanent end of the beloved restaurant is what prompted Parker and Stone to spring into action and pursue a purchase; they were big fans of the restaurant, having featured it prominently in South Park.

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"We want to buy Casa Bonita and treat it right," Parker said at the time. "I feel like it was neglected even before the pandemic."

But despite the love the two have for the place, not everyone in Casa Bonita's community were thrilled about the potential purchase. A local group called "Save Casa Bonita" filed an objection in bankruptcy court in hopes of purchasing the restaurant back for $3.5 million, The Denver Gazette reported at the time.

"South Park obviously has a lot of history with it because they had an episode about it, but we're the locals, we're the voice of the community, we have thousands of supporters so we don't want to see it become a South Park joke or South Park fun land," the group's founder, Andrew Novick, told a local news outlet. Eventually, though, the group withdrew their objection before court proceedings began.

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What’s new at Casa Bonita in 2023

Now, with the restaurant firmly in their possession, Parker and Stone have made some major updates ahead of the grand opening. High on the list for the revamp was a complete overhaul of the menu, and it sounds like the owners did not half-ass it.

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The restaurant's new executive chef, Dana Rodriguez, is a six-time James Beard Award nominee. The new menu will feature up to 198 gallons of mole sauce made fresh each night for the chicken, enchiladas with red and green sauce; green chile-braised brisket; chile relleno, with vegan and vegetarian options, served with refried beans and rice; and sopapillas with honey. All of this is to be made from scratch by a staff of 110 in a fully updated kitchen that previously only served steamed food and nothing else. Pricing of the dishes is still unclear.

Casa Bonita, of course, wouldn't be Casa Bonita without its attractions. The cliff divers are back, as well as Black Bart's Cave for fans of the restaurant's original setup, and both have been polished up. For safety reasons, the cliff divers now have a 14-foot-deep pool with a wider, relocated exit. Black Bart's Cave is now a windy maze located next to a puppet show stage, and the character Black Bart himself is less confusing. The original character was described as "an amalgam of 16 different comical bad guys." The new Black Bart is based on the actual character that robbed stagecoaches. Finally, for the adults, the South Park creators-turned-restaurateurs also added four new bars.

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If the $40 million price tag doesn't indicate a labor of love, Stone's explanation most certainly does: "We could have rebuilt this twice as big, for half as much money, but we spent so much restoring it, like a piece of art," Stone told The New York Times.

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