After cutting their teeth for several years in Lorne, business owners and friends Matt Griffiths and Kyall Hollmer decided it was time to venture up the Great Ocean Road.
Partnering with Cats footballer Steven Motlop, the trio have brought the fresh flavours of Mexico to Geelong with the second installment of Mexican Republic.
First opening four years ago on the main street of Lorne, it’s become a firm favourite for locals and tourists, with a number of Geelong residents making the trip down the coast – Steven being one of them.
The realisation of the popularity of their brand in Geelong made the decision an easy one, even if others mightn’t have agreed.
“When we first signed this [lease in Geelong] everybody was saying ‘You guys are crazy’,” Kyall says.
What proved to be a harder task for the business partners was finding the perfect venue to begin with. After a three-year search they walked in to see the defined rounded archways in the venue – a very Mexican architectural trait – and knew they’d found the one.
“That archway was pretty much why we chose this shop because it was so Mexican,” Matt says, gesturing to the archways which have since been decorated by artist Kasper Raglus (find him on Instagram @kasperraglus).
“We had a few major ideas and the rest just came to work and it all took shape, it wasn’t like we had it all planned. Each day we’d have a different idea and we’d put it together,” Kyall says.
Ten months of hard work and the space is light and open with splashes of blues, oranges and reds. A large mural of the Virgin Mary bows her head on the far wall as you walk in (“We found the image on a postcard,” Matt says), cacti prop up on high shelves and bottles of imported liquors and beers line the shelves behind the bar – promising plenty of good nights ahead.
Family and friends stepped in during the near year-long renovations, with Kyall’s brother Jack expertly crafting the booth seating in the dining room (Jack’s work can be found at @lumberjackfurniture on Instagram) and Hollmer plumbing also stepping in. It’s an element of creating the venue which the duo attests is part of its success and which they are thankful for.
Though the real difference of Mexican Republic isn’t their use of colour or hand-cut tiles, it’s the homage to traditional Mexican cuisine and the atmosphere they’ve created as a result.
“There weren’t many places in Geelong that did Mexican like we do,” Matt says.
“Everything is so simple over [in Mexico] but it just tastes so good,” Kyall adds, who has experienced the Mexican food and culture first hand.
Their knowledge shines through in the menu, with options ranging from charred street corn with queso and lime right through to a fried snapper, cabbage, pico de gallo, mayo and coriander taco.
With six different types of tequilas (all of which are 100 per cent agave) rounding out the menu, Mexican Republic also serves as an alternative to the commitment of “going out”. There are plans for events and special nights in the future, but in the meantime, the restaurant will continue to add to the culture of the Geelong CBD with every taco that makes its way from the kitchen.
Images: Tom Judson
Published in Forte Magazine and online.