HAMLET — The “Coming Soon” signs have gone up at the rising La Cabana “East,” raising speculation about how soon “soon” is.
Since building owner Ruben Huerta won city approval in August to convert the old Hamlet High School cafeteria and administrative building into a Mexican restaurant, stonemasons have built the bar and reception nook inside, fabricators have installed speckled granite counter tops, and booths have begun to line the deep-orange walls.
Outside, brick archways begun long before inside renovations are nearly completed, converting the squat, square building into something a little more Mexican than Carolinian.
“It’s really got the Mexican style,” Huerta said Monday, estimating that the restaurant building could be completed by late March or early April.
“We wanted it to be something you’d be proud of, (somewhere) you can feel the atmosphere … instead of a Hardee’s restaurant and putting some tables in there.”
Huerta was referring to the first La Cabana, whose building he also owns. It used to be a Hardee’s, and Huerta did not take as many pains to modify the old structure as he has with the current one, although he did paint the outside a South of the Border bright yellow. Local wags still sometimes call the Rockingham La Cabana the “Mexican Hardee’s.”
“A lot of people remember the square building of the school,” said Huerta, who plans to add patio space behind the arches of the Hamlet enterprise. To erase those memories — or alter them — “we use a lot of stone, a lot of bricks, a lot of arches.”
The kitchen still isn’t entirely in, but its space has been expanded beyond what the old kitchen occupied. Once everything has been installed, the restaurant owners will have to acquire the requisite permits to ensure healthy cooking.
Huerta owns the La Cabana buildings but not the restaurant businesses inside them.
Reach Christine Carroll at [email protected] or 910-817-2673.