From El Jalapeno to Baja Boro: Why the restaurant’s ownership and name have changed

Julia Fechter

Photo by Sindi Patani

Over the past several months, Statesboro has seen several changes in its local restaurant scene, from the opening of Chazito’s Latin Cuisine to the closing of Little Italy, and that is just on South Main Street.

Now, you may have noticed another change in the restaurant landscape on South Main Street as you were returning from the holiday break. The restaurant formerly known as El Jalapeno has been rebranded as Baja Boro.

The story of how the Mexican restaurant got to this point begins at the end of 2017, with Luis Gomez, the general manager of El Jalapeno, and his friend, Rick Robins.

Under new management

Rick Robins of Statesboro, Georgia, is the general manager of Baja Boro. Although his home state is Kentucky, he and his family have made deep ties to Georgia. He is a University of Georgia marketing graduate, and his father, Hugh “Perk” Robins, served as the vice president of development and external affairs at both the University of Georgia and Georgia Southern University. Photo by Sindi Patani.

Robins was a financial consultant and one of the people who helped start Boro Take Out (now called Mr. Delivery). When El Jalapeno closed in late November 2017, Robins talked to Gomez about what he could do to help Gomez.

“I said, ‘Well, I’ll put some money in to help you start back up,’” Robins said, “so basically, last February [of 2018], we reopened as El Jalapeno 2.0.”

In order to do that, the two created a new corporation. After the restaurant reopened, one of the restaurant’s customers had a proposition for Gomez.

“One of our customers here, who liked Luis a lot, and [he] was building a shopping center thing over in Pooler and wanted a Mexican restaurant there,” Robins said. “[He] told Luis, ‘I’ll build it, if you come run it’ kind of a deal.”

Gomez accepted that customer’s offer. As Gomez’s business interests became divided between Statesboro and Pooler, Robins explained that he started to take a more active role instead of solely acting as an investor. He helped run the business side of things, as well as learn more about the kitchen aspect of the restaurant.

“About two, three months ago, [Gomez] said, ‘Rick, I really want to spend time on that new restaurant and do whatever, so if you can find someone that’d be willing to buy out my portion [of El Jalapeno], then I’d willing to do that,” Robins said.

Robins found someone, Wayne Sircy, to buy out Gomez’s portion in the corporation about a month ago. Sircy owns the Ocean Galley, a seafood restaurant that has been operating in Statesboro for 20 to 30 years, according to Robins.

Sircy not only became a business partner, but also became a resource for Robins, who was more familiar with the financial aspects of running a business.

“I needed a mentor who could really help me with the restaurant part of have someone like him [Sircy] to make sure we’re doing things properly in the kitchen,” Robins said.

A new look

Baja Boro is the casual Mexican restaurant located at 711 S. Main St. in Statesboro. While it used to be called El Jalapeno, when general manager Rick Robins and his business partner, Wayne Sircy, took control of the restaurant, they rebranded it, along with other interior and menu changes. Photo by Sindi Patani.

As well, as most students were out of town over the holiday break, Sircy helped provide the money to finance things like the rebranding of El Jalapeno to Baja Boro and the new sign that accompanied that.

“The reason we went with the name Baja Bojo is that we really wanted to stress the fact that we’re a part of the community,” Robins said. “Plus, we didn’t want people from out of town to come in and think that we’re associated with Jalapeno’s, which is a restaurant chain around Savannah and the southeast.”

The new partnership will allow for repainting the deck and a variety of outside lighting, ranging from tiki torches on the deck to lighting in the parking lot. Inside, Robins expects to add several new televisions to the bar area and dartboards for entertainment.

Menu additions

Chicken wings were added to the Baja Boro menu as part of an initiative to offer more bar foods. One of the chefs, Chef Stephen, signed a contract with Robins to offer the wings, which were originally served as a staple of the Jaman Caribbean cafe that used to exist at the same location as Baja Boro. Photo by Sindi Patani.

While Robins said that Baja Boro will serve the same Mexican food, he also explained that the restaurant will start to serve more bar-style food like the Jaman wings.

For those that have been around Statesboro for a while, you may recognize that name. Jaman Caribbean Cafe was the restaurant that previously occupied the building that El Jalapeno, and now, Baja Boro, occupies.

One of Baja Boro’s cooks, Stephen, has been cooking up the wings for the past couple of weeks. The wing flavors include the Macdaddy wings, which Robins pointed that customers need to sign a waiver for due to the wings’ spiciness.

“Nacho, our cook, who is Mexican, made the wings and started crying just breathing the dried habaneros and stuff. Berto, the other Mexican cook, ate one. The next day, he came back [into the restaurant] and said, ‘My lips still hurt,’” Robins said.

Robins said because of that, fans of the Macdaddy wings often bring chapstick to protect their lips.

Job openings and more

Robins said Baja Boro is still accepting applications for servers. If you are interested in applying, you can get an application at the restaurant’s front desk, fill it out and leave it there.

Additionally, Frank and Dean, a Vegas-style music and comedy group, will perform at Baja Boro on Jan. 25, starting at 9 p.m.

In the interview, Rick Robins also discussed his personal reasoning behind becoming involved with Baja Boro. Robins explained that he enjoys interacting with customers and doing things for Statesboro through the restaurant.

“I’m less interested in getting wealthy than I am in having the ability to help people,” Robins added. “All these employees that work with this [restaurant], all the nonprofits, the student groups we do fundraising stuff for … to me, that’s the important stuff. What can I give back, as opposed to what I can take in.”