Downtown Greenbank is back in business.
All of its buildings are occupied or soon-to-be occupied by new businesses now buzzing with customers or construction crews.
The enterprises include a deli and small store, a restaurant and a cannabis shop. The historic Greenbank Store that closed in December is still undergoing structural renovations.
Molka Xete, a Mexican restaurant located in a former tatoo parlor, is the only business currently open.
It’s owned by two friends, Mario Saenz and Julio Aranda, who were college roommates at University of Texas, Rio Grande Valley. Saenz and his wife, Veronica Anguiano, moved to Whidbey Island last year and soon started thinking about opening a restaurant.
“My grandfather had a restaurant, my father had a restaurant so I guess I was born to have a restaurant, too,” Saenz said.
The small kitchen specializes in from-scratch cooking. All ingredients are made fresh, including the sauces, salsas, tortillas, tacos and crunchy chips. It also specializes in beef prepared in a variety of ways — fajita (grilled strip steak), bistek (sirloin steak) and deshebrada, which is pulled beef that is slowly roasted overnight.
“We’re a scratch Mexican taqueria,” Aranda said. “For now we have a short opening menu but our menu will grow as our staff grows.”
Prices range from $6 to $12.
Street tacos are the specialty; a plate of five costs $10. While they look small at first, the flavorful cilantro and caramelized onion topping and ample chicken or beef make for a satisfying lunch.
“It was great, wonderful,” said Leslie Born, out with friends after an art class. “We live less than a mile from here,” added Judy Skimmer. “We’re happy to have a restaurant again.”
Molka Xete is closed on Wednesday; open all other days, noon to 5 p.m.
On Facebook, Richard Phillips said he’d be back often for the high quality food at low prices.
“The portions were healthy and delicious,” he posted. “When the tacos arrived at our table, we could immediately see that they were both fresh and all the ingredients were crafted in house. Each taco was about two bites and every bite was delicious.”
The name and logo of Molka Xete translates into the traditional Mexican stone version of a mortar and pestle, Aranda explained.
Since late May, it’s enjoyed a steady stream of patrons stopping at the small shopping center that looked sadly dormant all winter.
“We lost our store and it was like our epicenter here,” said Don Peters, who lives close enough to bicycle in for some tacos. “Maybe they’ll be a few food businesses and it will be like a Greenbank food court.”
More like a one-stop shop for pot, beer, tacos and toilet paper.
Alex Pulichino and Emily Terao, who purchased the Greenbank Store with plans to open a restaurant, decided to also lease a nearby building.
“While the initial work on the store has turned from renovation to restoration we thought it would be to everyone’s benefit to open a little store and deli in the vacant building next to the post office,” Pulichino said.
Painted in fresh white paint with the name Greenbank Pantry & Deli drawn with flowers on the side, there are now picnic tables out front.
Plans are to be open for morning coffee, breakfast and lunch and be the neighborhood corner grocer for basic milk, eggs, bacon, beer, wine, snacks and household basics, Terao said.
“We hope to open by the end of next week,” she said. “We’re still dealing with some final inspections.”
The opening of a marijuana retail outlet, The Weed Shop, in the back building of the Greenbank lot is unclear. The building has been painted and ready to go with signs required by the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis Board.