By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published Jan 16, 2013 at 5:15 AM

Carolina and Julio Lopez closed their popular Mexican eatery, Guanajuato, in December, but only so they could focus on their new space. Last year, the couple bought a building, 2317 S. Howell Ave., and it's just a few doors down from the former location – which they rented.

The new Guanajuato opens Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 10 a.m.

The menu is the same as the original Guanajuato, which opened in 2007, with a few new additions including parrilladas, cheese fries, a grilled chicken dish, an expanded kids' menu and a fried ice cream dessert. The full bar now offers eight different margaritas.

Guanajuato serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Carolina and Julio make all of the food themselves, every day. They receive some help from employees and three of their five children work in the restaurant, but they are there seven days a week cooking and doing whatever else needs to get done to keep operations running smoothly.

All of the recipes are Carolina's or the creation of other family members. She is most proud of her salsa and mole.

"Nobody out there makes the same salsa," she says. "Mine has a different taste. It is very unique."

The Lopezes, who have been married for 22 years, moved to Milwaukee 21 years ago from Guanajuato, Mexico, because they had family here. The original Guanajuato was their first restaurant. Although they outgrew the space, they wanted to stay in Bay View.

"The people here have supported us a lot," says Carolina. "Everything we did was for the community. And we could have not done it without (Ald.) Tony Zielinski. He has been very supportive since the beginning."

Carolina and Julio say they feel a connection to other Mexican restaurant owners in the city and that they dine regularly at other Latin eateries.

"We feel a sense of community (with other business owners)," says Julio.

When their lease was up in the former space, they shopped around for a building, and purchased one on the same block. As a former heating and cooling business, the ground floor which houses the restaurant had to undergo a total remodel.

The Lopezes hired an architect and a construction team to create the new space.

"We wanted it to look better than the old space," says Carolina. "We invested a lot in this."

The new space is cleaner and brighter, with freshly painted orange, blue and yellow walls along with a new tiled floor. There's a large bar, a half-dozen booths and a few hand-carved wooden tables and benches. The decor consists of paintings and art from Mexico.

Although we missed the massive leafy vine that nearly covered the ceiling in the old space – Carolina said she tried to preserve it but it didn't survive once it was cut down – the new space is definitely an upgrade.

This summer, Guanajuato will open a patio as well. In the meantime, the family will work on finding their rhythm in the new environment and continue to serve quality Mexican food.

"We wanted to create a a place where people can eat good food and feel very comfortable," says Carolina.

Guanajuato is open Sunday through Thursday from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Fridays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.