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Q&A with John Lanni of Bakersfield Mass Ave.

More than five years ago, Cincinnati native John Lanni and his brother, Joe Lanni, opened one of their quick-service Currito food-court counters in Circle Centre. Now, the brothers are headed back to the Hoosier state to prepare for something a little more (okay, a lot more) spirited: Bakersfield Mass Ave, set to open this spring.

 

Trisha Brand: What kind of food will you serve?

John Lanni: We call it street Mexican fare. We’ll offer street-style tacos, tortas, salads, and a few appetizers. We’ll also have a rotation of soups. All of our corn tortillas will be handmade from scratch on-site.

TB: Can you explain the ambience?

JL: It’ll be a fun, casual “have a good time” kind of place. The concept is equal parts bar and restaurant. We’ll be playing Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard and all the great sounds of Bakersfield—while slinging up margs and craft cocktails. It’ll get a bit rowdy (which we like). We’re using reclaimed barn wood from northern Ohio, concrete bar tops, and Edison-style light bulbs. And we are keeping the brick exposed.

TB: What is your restaurant background?

JL: I’ve grown up around restaurants. My brother and I grew up around a family restaurant business. [Their father was the founder and CEO of Great Steak & Potato Co.] Back in 2005, we went out and started our own burrito chain, Currito. We currently have 16 locations. We also operate a grilled cheese sandwich concept in Oxford, Ohio, SoHi Grilled Sandwiches, and we have four other mall-based food court unit restaurants in Cincinnati.

TB: Why Indianapolis? 

JL: We felt Mass Ave was very similar in style to the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood in Cincinnati, the site of the first location.

TB: What about the margaritas?

JL: We’ll make hand-squeezed margs and serve them in mason jars.

TB: We understand tequila and tacos. How’d whisky get top billing on the menu?

JL: Well, we wanted to do barrel-based liquors. And both bourbon and tequila are aged in barrels. Our first location is on the Kentucky border in Cincinnati. So it makes a lot of sense to offer bourbon as well as tequila. We offer approximately 50 different Kentucky bourbons and 50 different types of tequila. And I think it also adds to the fact that though we’re a Mexican-based concept, we’re really also a Bakersfield sound concept, where we play a lot of music from that era [Buck Owens, Merle Haggard, Johnny Cash]. In the '50s and '60s, Bakersfield, California, was famous for its musicians, who moved out from Nashville. They were the first real rebels—and rock stars—of their time.

TB: What will the price point be?

JL: Most of the tacos are $3 to $4, and our sandwiches are $7 to $8. Everything on the food menu is under $10. The house margarita is $6, but most cocktails are $8 to $12. We also have $50 shots of tequila and bourbon, alongside the $2 PBRs.