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El Sombrero burned in 2019. Now, one owner is opening a new restaurant with a familiar menu
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A sign announcing El Sombrero opening soon hangs in a window Monday, March 15, 2021, at the former Applebee's location on Browns Bridge Road.

Like a phoenix rising from the ashes, El Sombrero is coming back to Browns Bridge Road. 

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A sign announcing El Sombrero opening soon hangs in a window Monday, March 15, 2021, at the former Applebee's location on Browns Bridge Road. - photo by Scott Rogers

The original Browns Bridge location burned down on Nov. 14, 2019, after more than 30 years in operation. It first opened in 1987. 

The Gainesville Fire Department closed the investigation a few months after the fire, marking the cause as “undetermined,” but ruling out arson.

Christian Aguirre ran the El Sombrero on Browns Bridge with his father, Ernesto, and uncle, Arturo Guzman. The new business will take on the name El Sombrero Mexican Grill & Cantina and will not be a part of the El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant franchise.

Aguirre said he remembers receiving the call from his cousin about the restaurant catching fire over a year ago. By the time he arrived at the scene, he said the building was engulfed in flames. 

“It was sad,” he said. “But, what can you do?”

For months Aguirre, who also co-owns the South Enota Drive El Sombrero, kept his eyes open for a new spot on Browns Bridge Road. Aguirre said he didn’t want to rebuild on the old property because it didn’t have ample room for parking. So after regularly driving by the old Applebee’s at 1705 Browns Bridge Road, he decided to check it out. 

In July 2020, Aguirre signed a lease on the building.

“As far as the layout, it worked perfectly for us,” he said. “It felt right.”

Aguirre said he hopes to open the restaurant in June with an updated look, but the same menu and full bar. 

“I’m excited, more than anything,” he said. “All the restaurants have been the same for years, I think a lot of people have been waiting for a new rebrand.”

This article was updated March 23, 2021, to clarify the relationship to El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant.

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A sign announcing El Sombrero opening soon hangs in a window Monday, March 15, 2021, at the former Applebee's location on Browns Bridge Road. - photo by Scott Rogers
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