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END OF AN ERA: The last Pepito’s Mexican restaurant shuts its doors after more than 35 years

But there is a sequel of sorts — under a different name — in the works just a few blocks away in Kettering

The last remaining Pepito’s Mexican restaurant has shut down after 35 years, marking the end for a locally based chain that served the Dayton area for 38 years.

The Pepito’s at 3618 Wilmington Pike closed last week, but a successor restaurant is gearing up to open perhaps by the end of this week under a new name just two blocks up the street at 3800 Wilmington Pike. That space, until very recently, housed the Merit Grill, which also has closed and is looking to relocate soon, Merit Grill owner Oscar Rodriguez told this news outlet today.

The new Mexican restaurant will not carry the Pepito’s name, however. It will open as Jorrge’s Restaurante Cantina, according to Rodriguez, who said he is assisting in the venture with former Pepito’s general manager George Andrade. Jorrge’s Restaurante Cantina will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner Tuesday through Sunday, and dinner on Monday, Rodriguez said.

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The closure of the Pepito’s marks the end of an era for a local Mexican restaurant chain that once boasted six restaurants throughout the Miami Valley.

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Here’s what Chris Bucio, the son of the Pepito’s Mexican Restaurant’s co-founder and owner, Ramon Bucio, told this news outlet in 2013, when the original Pepito’s on Catalpa Drive in north  Dayton shut down after what was then 33 years in business:

“My father Ramon Bucio created the concept of Pepito’s with his brother Ignacio Bucio in 1980, and by the mid-1980s, Pepito’s became arguably the most well-regarded Mexican restaurant in the Miami Valley. In its heyday, there were six Pepito’s stretching all the way north to Sidney.”

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One of those six Pepito’s locations was the Kettering restaurant, which George Andrade oversaw at that time as its general manager. It opened in 1983, just three years after the chain was founded.

>> PREVIOUS COVERAGE: New Merit Grill to open on Wilmington Pike in Kettering (February 2017)

Ramon Bucio  said his father and uncle “helped teach Daytonians how to enjoy and experience Mexican cuisine and culture at a time when Hispanics were not as easily accepted.”

The Pepito's Mexican restaurant in Kettering, which shut down in early November 2018. MARK FISHER/STAFF

Neither Andrade nor Bucio could be reached for comment. The restaurant’s relocation to the former Merit Grill was confirmed on its Facebook page and on a sign taped to its front entrance. 

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Merit Grill has operated at 3800 Wilmington Pike since March 2017. The building it occupies was built as a Friendly’s restaurant decades ago, and subsequently housed the Bar-B-Q Hut, a mainstay in Kettering for 25 years before it closed in October 2011. In 2014, the Kettering Grill & Cafe opened in the space before it was replaced by Merit Grill nearly three years later.

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The new Jorrge’s will not be serving alcohol initially while the transfer of a liquor license is pending, a  process that will like take a couple of months, Rodriguez said.

Merit Grill has closed, but will soon be the new home of Jorrge's Restaurante Cantina. MARK FISHER/STAFF

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