The big, bright mural revealed the news a few weeks ago that Fonda Lupita — picked by Eater.com as one of the 11 best new restaurants in the United States in 2021 — was moving to a new (nearby) location this summer. Owner Biridiana Frausto told The Rant this week that the bigger location could be ready to start serving customers by the end of this month.
The new building is the former home of Pizza Inn and, most recently, Oishii Sushi & Hibachi, which opened in 2015 before closing roughly a year later. Completely renovated to fit their needs (and add color and flair to the dining experience), the location — at 1952 South Horner in the Sanford Crossing shopping center — will allow Frausto to seat dozens more customers than the current restaurant on Main Street in the Jonesboro Heights area and will allow her to create a more stable menu instead of a rotation of favorites.
“It’s six times larger than our current spot, and that alone is going to be so much better for our customers,” Frausto said. “Not everybody liked doing takeout — they prefer their food warm and fresh when it’s served, rather than taking it home. And a lot of our customers didn’t like the long lines or the way. We’re hoping the new location gets those issues fixed.”
As for the menu, she said the quality and the dishes will remain mostly the same, only now most menu items will be available on a daily basis (rather than certain days of the week).
“We’ll be able to offer sopas every day, and enchiladas Mondays through Fridays. Most everything else is what we’ve been doing so far,” she said. “For those who’ve asked us for things like hard-shell tacos or more ‘Americanized’ offerings, that’s not really our style. But the good news for them is we’ll be adding a queso dip and guacamole with chips — we’ve done these things in restaurants we run in Raleigh, so it’s not really ‘new.’”
Fonda Lupita burst onto the scene in Sanford in 2021, part of a revival of new businesses in the Jonesboro Heights area. Business was good, if not great, for that first year, Frausto said, as her restaurant offered “Mexican comfort food,” different from what many “Tex-Mex” style restaurants offer in North Carolina.
Late that year, however, tragedy struck Frausto and her family when her father was hospitalized with COVID-19, dying shortly after. As Frausto was going through one of the most difficult times of her life, the Eater.com article hit in November. Everything changed.
“It was like this huge, sudden sunshine emerging in the storm,” she said.
Business picked up immediately. Local customers were finally discovering the hidden gem, and foodies from around the state (and the country) were coming by to see what all the fuss was about.
“We thought it would help business, but we thought it was going to be Sanford customers,” Frausto said. “Nobody’s going to drive an hour or more to eat here, right? But they did — and we just tried to keep up, staying consistent with the quality of the food and getting better with our timing. We learned to adapt.”
The new location is born from the success of the past year and a half, but Fonda Lupita isn’t abandoning the “hole in the wall” location when the move is complete. Once “Fonda Lupita 2.0” is ready, the old location will become Las Tortas by Fonda Lupita, a diner and takeout spot offering all kinds of tortas — Mexican sandwiches filled with number of different choices, from asada to breaded chicken, carnitas to ribs. Even eggs.
As for the new spot — the biggest addition will be the bar, serving fresh-made margaritas and the ever-popular micheladas (Mexican beer and tomato juice cocktails).
Frausto said the move wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the Sanford community, both before and after the national accolades.
“I want to thank everybody who helped us through the difficult times and supported us during the good times. Everybody was understanding when we had to close, and they’ve endured the long lines and the waits. This whole community has accepted us, and we’re very excited about this next step.”
— Billy Liggett