Fort Worth restaurateur transforms inside of Ridgmar Farmers Market

Richard Rivera, who has worked at Mexican-style restaurants since age 10, has transformed the entire 11,000-square-foot interior of Ridgmar Farmers Market for his Rivera's Mexican Grill & Market.

"I don't know a lot of things, but I know what people want," said Rivera, 49, who as a child stood on a Coke case to fry tortilla chips at La Hacienda, waited tables 12 years at Joe T. Garcia's and owned Café Rivera's Mexican Food Restaurant in White Settlement for a decade.

He is closing the Western Place Garden Cafe in the PlainsCapital Bank Building this month to devote himself full time to the new venture, which has been open since early March but held its grand opening last weekend.

The venture will feature his signature chiles rellenos as well as traditional, but unexpected, smoked Texas brisket and ribs.

Rivera envisions mariachi performers belting out Volver Volver from atop a newly constructed bar in the restaurant, at 900 Alta Mere Drive.

In addition to longnecks and margaritas, cocktails will be served with names like Fly By and Jet Fuel, inspired by the aircraft landings and takeoffs at the Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base an intimate distance away.

Rivera, who is leasing the space from the market's owners, also expects to have outdoor musical events and piñatas for the kids -- four supervised whacks for $1.

The barbecue operation came with the space, after the market's unhappy experiences with a changing array of restaurant managers and staff. Aside from barbecue and Tex-Mex, including takeout tamales by the dozen, the atmosphere will set Rivera's apart.

Rivera insisted that two of the partners who own the market -- Jimmy Hutton and Wayne Murphy -- will continue to operate the produce and honey market on the building's periphery.

This summer, every customer will have to maneuver around tables laden with Parker County peaches, some from an orchard run by Hutton and his brother.

"We want the market atmosphere -- like Mi Tierra in San Antonio's El Mercado," Rivera said. But the market area around Mi Tierra trades in turista trinkets and keepsakes, while the venture across from Ridgmar mall sells produce.

And Rivera is convinced that he will retain loyal barbecue customers, such as police officers from area departments. He will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner; offerings start at $1.95 for a chopped beef sandwich. That's not a misprint. A sliced barbecue brisket sandwich runs $4.50.

While lunch specials range from $5.25 to $5.75, choices exist for people willing to throw down more.

His steak tampiqueña is an 18-ounce New York strip covered with cheese enchiladas, then smothered in the house red sauce, bordered by refried beans and rice for $20.99.

The restaurant's interior seats 250, the west patio 110 and the east patio 90, with a smoking section also outside.

The venture is using an already-equipped kitchen and a mechanized smoker. To rework and redecorate the facility, Rivera estimated the cost at $100,000 to $125,000, which he called reasonable considering the size.

Relatives are helping with financing and, so far, they're still talking to him, he said.

BARRY SHLACHTER, 817-390-7718