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The power of nostalgia: Casa Bonita’s grand re-opening

This formerly bankrupt restaurant is getting a second chance, and the crowds are flocking to the nostalgia of Casa Bonita.

The front of Casa Bonita, a large ornate pink building with a tall tower in the center and white steeples.

You don’t have to be a South Park fan to recognize the classic pink exterior of Lakewood, Colorado’s Casa Bonita. Not only is Casa Bonita a historic landmark, it’s also a beloved restaurant of the creators of South Park. In fact, Matt Stone and Trey Parker loved it so much, that they bought the restaurant in 2021 and invested $40M+ on renovations. It opened for a test run earlier this month. In just a few weeks of the announcement, it has a waitlist of over 100K people waiting for the official re-opening. 

The history of Casa Bonita

Lakewood’s Casa Bonita opened in 1974, but the chain originated in 1968 in Oklahoma City. The chain was famous for many things, but one of the most popular was the sopapillas, small pieces of fried dough, served with honey at every meal. In its heyday, Casa Bonita served up some great food, but over time, it declined. The Lakewood restaurant filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy before being acquired by Stone and Parker.

They’ve made significant changes to the restaurant, including making it ADA-compliant, adding four new bars, and updating its kitchen. The pink exterior remains unchanged, but the menu has been revamped by Chef Dana Rodriguez, who has been nominated for six James Beard awards. You’ll still find strolling mariachi bands, just like the original, and the puppet shows. 

What is the real attraction of Casa Bonita? 

If you’ve never been to Casa Bonita, you may think that it’s just another Mexican restaurant. Those are a dime a dozen in the South. To those who grew up eating its food and enjoying meals with family under its roof, Casa Bonita is much, much more.

According to Casa Bonita’s Facebook page, the email signup was unavailable at least once because so many people were signing up to be on the waitlist. Why would so many people want to visit a restaurant that closed after almost 50 years due to bankruptcy? Even better, why would two people put over $40M into that restaurant? 

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Some would say that it’s a sense of nostalgia. Nostalgia connects us to our past, to those memories when life was easier because we were children or when our family was happier. Nostalgia can be bittersweet. Sweet because we remember good times. Bitter because we know we can no longer go back in time. We can only create new memories.

And that is the appeal of Casa Bonita. Those on the waitlist want to recreate those good times with their own kids and family.

Dawn Brotherton is a Sr. Staff Writer at The American Genius with an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Oklahoma. She is an experienced business writer with over 10 years of experience in SEO and content creation. Since 2017, she has earned $60K+ in grant writing for a local community center, which assists disadvantaged adults in the area.


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