It was like an episode of Restaurant: Impossible
, Erasmo "Ras" Casiano says of opening the doors at Lucina Eatery & Bar
. He and his team at Create Cooking School
, including fellow chef and co-owner Diego Coconati, are behind the new Latin eatery at 2245 Kearney Street.
Casiano and Coconati got the itch to open a restaurant after hosting a series of wine dinners at Create during the pandemic. When Westword spoke to them in December
, they were hopeful that they'd be able to open as soon as Christmas, but construction delays pushed that date back until the afternoon of Tuesday, March 22, when they unexpectedly got their temporary certificate of occupancy.
At the time, the space was completely empty, with "dust still falling and settling," Casiano shares in an Instagram post. But after months of waiting, he and the Lucina staff were excited to have the green light to open. They just needed to "completely clean and deck out a restaurant," Casiano explains. That meant filling the space with the furniture and glassware and shelving that had been sitting in storage — and bringing in and prepping all of the food, too.
It was all hands on deck. "Wednesday and Thursday we got our food and beverage deliveries in and we were scrambling to see if we could get SOMETHING done and just open the doors to see what would happen," Casiano's post continues.
There was a mock service night with staff only on Thursday, March 24. Coconati was hard at work making proteins as the rest of the kitchen team learned new dishes, sauces and techniques. One employee smudged the space with palo santo and sage, while others worked on setting up tables and service stations.
Friday and Saturday are paella nights at Lucina.
Casiano and his team only told a few people that the restaurant might be opening on Friday, March 25. "Even the POS wasn't entirely up and running," the Instagram post notes. But by 4:55 p.m., there was a line forming outside the still-locked door.
"From a public perspective, we were calm, cool and collected," Casiano says. "It was as smooth as it could have been, but it was exactly what we needed to expose our pain points." On Saturday, the staff regrouped. "Everyone had line items," he adds, and the team once again came together to open the restaurant at 5 p.m.
"Seeing the exponential growth between day one and day two, I felt like a proud dad," Casiano recalls. But opening a new restaurant is stressful for a lot of reasons — including opening up the business to online reviews. "I was hoping people understood that this was not an opening-opening. To be judged on day one is nerve-racking."
But so far, the public has embraced Lucina, and Casiano and his team are excited to keep improving as they work toward an official grand-opening celebration. In the meantime, Lucina will be open Tuesday through Saturday from 5 p.m. to close as it continues to fine-tune everything from service to uneven tables and works to launch its reservations system.
The menu includes standouts like pollo alla brasa, which is marinated in Peruvian spices, and a vegan squash dish with mole. Paella is available on Fridays and Saturdays, and there are plans to add brunch service, as well. But for now, Casiano is just beaming with pride.
"Never did I dream of a team being so ready and willing to get opened and make people happy," he concludes.