Jose’s Cantina returns with new (old) ownership

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 313 views 

Ole for Jose’s! — the tradition continues! (and yes, it’s worth the exclamation point!)

Jose’s Restaurant and Cantina — a fixture on Dickson Street long before the Walton Arts Center or any of the multi-story condominiums were built — has been shuttered since January. A sign on the door declares the landmark eatery is closed for maintenance — and it needs plenty — but it’s taken until now to work out the details of new ownership.

Doug Allen, who has owned and operated Jose’s Southwest Grille in Springdale since 2004, and the one-and-only “Jose’,” Joe Fennel, penned a deal Tuesday (Feb. 28) that will make them partners in the restaurant that Fennel opened solo in 1980.

“The original Jose is going to jump back in there and make it happen,” said Fennel, who owns the Jose’s franchise and the lease on the building at 324 W. Dickson St.

Fennel also owns and operates another Dickson Street hotspot, the upscale Bordinos.

The new Jose’s will be much smaller, 140 seats, compared to the previous 300, said Fennel. An area in the back that oldtimers will remember as the bar/club room will be turned into “Jose’s Ballroom,” a place available for private parties and events. The two are shooting for a June 1 open date.

“I think Jose’s being restored to its original glory is a good thing for everybody on Dickson Street,” Fennel said. “It’ll bring good energy to the area.”

Allen has been beside himself ever since this opportunity came up. He said it brings his relationship with Fennel “full circle.”

Originally from Eureka Springs, Allen worked for Fennel while in college. He answered a newspaper ad for a dishwasher at Jose’s and was hired. As a kid, Allen had made fun of Fennel and his trademark “Ole for Jose’s!”  slogan made famous through radio commercials.

“As kids, we thought they were irritating,” Allen said.

He went to work at Jose’s on a busy Friday night and after two hours, he was neck-deep in dishes.

“I had s*** piled everywhere,” recalls Allen.

The back door was about 10 feet away and he briefly considered making a run for it.

“Then Joe came back there. He put his arm around me and said, ‘I know this really sucks, but I appreciate you hanging in there,’ and then he helped me finish up. … That’s when I decided to stay.”

Today, he credits Fennel for his success in the restaurant business, especially his strong relationships with employees. He says he’s “humbled” by the opportunity “to build Jose’s back to what it used to be.”

Neal Crawford, the restaurant’s owner/operator for the last seven years, is reportedly pursuing another line of work not related to the restaurant business.

Allen and Fennel are also partners in a supply store in Springdale, Northwest Arkansas Restaurant and Kitchen Supply.

One question for Fennel was “Why?” Why get involved in a (somewhat) new and potentially costly venture?
His answer: “Because I miss it. I’m Jose.”