Walk into Mex 1 Coastal Cantina in West Ashley and feel the beach vibe wash over you – the sunset wall behind the bar, bathed in soft oranges, yellows and reds, combined with the signage and surfboards, the light Mexican fare and the margaritas to die for. You could swear the smell of the ocean is in the air.
Well it is, because you’re actually at the new Mex 1 on Sullivan’s Island, on the main strip where Station 22 used to be. Mex 1 owners Dave and Chrissy Lorenz, and Roddy Smith, have opened a second Mex 1 location. If you like the beach shack ambience of the West Ashley restaurant, you’ll love the same authentic Baja Mexican fare at their new authentic beach location.
The Sullivan’s Mex 1, unveiled to a hungry island at the beginning of September, offers what made the restaurant popular in West Ashley, with the ocean town thrown in. Dave Lorenz, a veteran of iconic eateries Sticky Fingers and Jack’s Cosmic Dogs, recommends that you enjoy the “Bangin Shrimp Taco” – lightly fried shrimp atop crunchy cabbage. The spicy, creamy “bangin” sauce is balanced by a sweet agave-cilantro drizzle.
Or, said Lorenz, order the “Grilled Mahi Baja Bowl,” packed with steamed brown rice and seasoned black beans made in-house, drawing out a grilled mahi mahi seasoned with a signature spicy Baja rub. Top it with pico, jack cheese, guacamole, green onions and fresh cilantro.
Of course, you’ll wash it down with a margarita – and not one of those over-stuffed margaritas in a gorilla glass that oozes sour mix. At Mex 1, it’s a house recipe featuring 100-percent blue agave tequila infused with fruit, which you can witness comingling in Mason jars right behind the bar. The pineapple habanero margarita is a customer favorite.
Mex 1 was named for the highway that traverses the narrow Baja California peninsula of western Mexico. The fare, colors and music are light, exuberant and fresh, the food and atmosphere you want greeting you after a day on the waves. Even at the West Ashley location, you can stop in and find surfers in their board shorts as well as guests in work attire.
The restaurant business is often where dreams – and fortunes – go to die. It’s a daily grind that requires perpetual attention to the big picture and the smallest details. So when the Lorenz’ and Smith made the leap five years ago in West Ashley, they knew they had to deliver constantly.
“The core of our business is consistent, craveable food and the cleanliness of our operation,” said Dave.
This even meant giving up a day’s receipts to clean, organize and train staff to demonstrate to the employees the importance of focusing on the small details.
The booming hospitality industry in the Lowcountry has made this a tough time to recruit and retain quality food service employees. Mex 1’s owners envision a corporate entity with multiple locations, providing numerous opportunities for new hires. Dave said the owners realize that to build a great company, they need great people, and to keep great people, they need to treat their employees well. Both Lorenz and Smith learned this lesson from past restaurant experiences.
Lorenz said Mex 1 will never sacrifice quality for a few extra bucks.
“Profits result from quality, not the other way around,” he remarked.