New restaurant in town: Riviera Maya Mexican Cafe


Grace Duddy

Riviera Maya Mexican Cafe, an authentic Mexican restaurant, has just opened in Baldwin City Kan. located at 912 Ames St.

Riviera Maya Mexican Cafe has recently opened in Baldwin City, Kan. Located at 912 Ames St., Riviera Maya offers authentic Mexican food, drinks and an atmosphere of rich culture and community.

Owner Jose “Pepe” Lopez named his newest restaurant after the destination Riviera Maya, a region off the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico that was once home to the ancient Mayan people. Today, it is known for its beaches, clear water, natural waterfalls, dolphins and historical Mayan ruins that are still standing.

“I like the area. It is very famous and maybe more people will know about it after coming to our restaurant,” Lopez said.

Along with the symbolism of the name, the restaurant features traditional Mexican decor. Lopez and his team take pride in the “home-cooking” style of food, including one of their favorite dishes: the mini chimichanga appetizers. According to Lopez, they utilize a charbroiler, a type of grill, which is key in achieving their signature flavors.

“We have different flavors. We use authentic cheeses for sauces and dips, and our sauces are very creamy and delicious,” Lopez said.

Lopez had been looking for a restaurant space in Baldwin City for three to four years to showcase his homestyle recipes. Lopez began his entrepreneurial experience in Lawrence, Kan. where he launched two businesses prior to Riveria Maya. He takes pride in his Mexican grocery store called Casa Azteca Market, as well as his restaurant called Acapulco Mexican Grill.

Hoping to appeal to a college crowd, Lopez took advantage of the location in Baldwin City hoping to expand his business efforts.

Opening the restaurant was a group endeavor with multiple people contributing. Server Xochil Oyervides says it was a long time coming, but seeing the restaurant now fully operating is rewarding.

“Everyone works really hard, and we work together to make every day successful,” Oyervides said.

Lopez had hopes of opening during the summer of 2021 and even constructed a patio area on the east side of the restaurant for people to enjoy during the warm months. The summer opening was delayed further after a struggle to find enough employees.

Despite the difficulties, Riviera Maya Mexican Cafe opened on Oct. 16, during the weekend of the Maple Leaf Festival.

Though the operating hours fluctuated at first, the restaurant now has its official operating hours established. Riviera Maya is open Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and on Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. It is closed on Sundays to be able to give workers, most of whom work every day, a day off.

Lopez says he is willing to stay open a little later for groups wanting to stay and hang out. If it is a slow evening, they may close a bit earlier.

The Baker University community has taken notice of the newest addition to the list of restaurants in Baldwin City. It provides another option of Mexican cuisine as El Patron was the standalone Mexican restaurant in town prior.

Some were under the impression that Riviera Maya was in partnership with El Patron, but Oyervides confirmed that though some employees at both restaurants know each other, there is no business connection between the two. Each restaurant is a standalone.

Junior Luke Smith visited the restaurant with a few friends a few weeks after the opening. Smith said he enjoyed the food and the atmosphere, admiring its reasonable prices and quick service. He is excited to see Baldwin City expand more food options for the community.

“[More restaurants] are good for us college kids especially. When we don’t want to cook every day, it’s nice to have options of places to go eat with our friends,” Smith said. “I’d definitely recommend [Riviera Maya] to others.”

In a sense, Riviera Maya Mexican Cafe is a family business as not all, but some, of the employees are family members. As of now, there are approximately 10 people working. Lopez is grateful to be able to rely on family to come in when they are short-staffed and help the business run smoothly.

“I am so thankful to everyone who has supported my dreams,” Lopez said.