Maria's has been on South Street in downtown Springfield since 2001. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Maria’s Mexican Restaurant, 25 years in downtown Springfield, closed this week but an offer of help in the form of a loan came quickly and the restaurant “might” reopen.

The restaurant at 406 South Ave. had what owners Christopher and Monica Guest thought would be its last day on Sunday, Aug. 28.

It was closed Monday and opened briefly on Tuesday, Aug. 30, for a farewell gathering for friends, family and employees, said Christopher Guest.

A sign announcing a private event had been on the window of Maria’s Mexican Restaurant had been on the front door until mid-afternoon on Thursday, September 1. (Photo by Steve Pokin)

But the situation has changed, and Guest now says Maria’s “might” find a way to re-open.

Agency steps in with possible loan

On Monday, Raymond “Rusty” Worley, executive director of the Downtown Springfield Association, first heard of the closing.

Since then, Worley has been working with the owners, other agencies and the city to offer a loan package to preserve jobs and keep Maria’s open.

“Maria’s is one of our pioneer businesses downtown,” Worley said. “They are well known and loved, very similar to the Springfield Brewing Company.”

Worley said keeping Maria’s open was also important because sometime next year a new boutique hotel — the Moxy Hotel — will open a half block south of the restaurant on South Avenue. The hotel is being developed by O’Reilly Hospitality Management.

COVID at top of list of restaurant’s struggles

Guest gave several reasons for the closure that — now — might not be permanent.

First, he said, COVID not only hurt business but made it difficult to keep staff. Since the closing, he said, he has heard from Penmac staffing, also on South Avenue, that kitchen help might be available.

Second, he said, the cost of supplies has risen dramatically.

Third, the addition of a second location in 2020 at 4601 S. Campbell Ave. failed in large part due to the pandemic. It has since closed. Casa Bella Mexican Queen is now there.

Finally, Guest said, he has had difficulty with his landlord over the financial terms of his lease. He said he had tried to renegotiate the terms.

Maria’s is a large space on South Street in downtown Springfield. (Photo by Shannon Cay Bowers)

Maria’s moved to South Avenue in 2001

Worley said the loan funds could be used for the Guests to pay rent.

The money would come from the Springfield Finance & Development Corp., Worley says. The agency works with the city of Springfield to support small businesses.

“We stand ready to help him in any way that we can,” Worley said.

The restaurant started in a tiny 280-square-foot storefront in downtown Springfield in 1997. Records with the Missouri Secretary of State list the former address at 319 1/2 E. Walnut St.

Originally, Monica’s parents, Mary and Ben Blades, were owners as well.

The restaurant moved to its location to South Street in 2001, with the help of a loan from the Small Business Administration.

‘Last call forever … RIP Maria’s’

News of the closing this week started to pop up on social media posts.

The Springfield Daily Citizen had seen two such posts:

One stated: “Sad to see a downtown Springfield landmark close its doors. Monica & Chris — love you long time, 25 years was a great run!”

The post included a photo of the owners. They are wearing T-shirts commemorating their 25 years in business,

(The official anniversary date is April 16, Christopher Guest told the Springfield Daily Citizen.)

Owners had said nothing on social media

Another social media post stated: “Last call forever for another South Ave. watering hole. RIP Maria’s.”

As of 4:45 p.m. Thursday, the restaurant’s Facebook page made no mention of the closing. The most recent post was July 31.

The restaurant’s Twitter account — @mariasdowntown — also does not mention the closing. The most recent tweet was on Nov. 29, 2019.

Guest told the Springfield Daily Citizen late Thursday afternoon that the owners would soon post a statement on its Facebook page.

Steve Pokin

Steve Pokin writes the Pokin Around and The Answer Man columns for the Springfield Daily Citizen. He also writes about criminal justice issues. He can be reached at spokin@sgfcitizen.org. His office line is 417-837-3661. More by Steve Pokin