If you don’t personally know Spencer Slaine, Cody Pruitt, or Ken Halberg, you wouldn’t recognize them running from one restaurant to the other, or have the slightest clue that the three partners own both restaurants.
Chef Joel Zaragoza, who has been head chef at Harding’s for the past three years and is originally from Mexico, is now responsible for simultaneously overseeing the cuisine at both restaurants: from griddle cakes, hamburgers and pork chops to churro bowls, tacos al pastor, and chicken mole bowls.
The chef was part of their motivation for creating Casa Neta. According to Pruitt, Zaragoza had never made his hometown cuisine in a professional capacity, despite working in the industry for decades. Inspiration also came from what the trio perceived as a need for authentic Mexican cuisine and artisanal cocktails in the neighborhood. With the help of Halberg’s sister-in-law and her family, who hail from Mexico, they were able to create what he described as a “refined authenticity” that many places lack.
“We did not want to cannibalize our current business at Harding’s, so we wanted a complementary business,” Halberg said. “Harding’s is all about America. We use and sell almost entirely American products, with the exception of few liquors.”
In a neighborhood that sees more workers by day than destination partiers by night, it’s been a bit difficult to draw the night owls into their lower-level party lounge, the Sugar Skull Room, Pruitt said.
“My intention was to have it almost be a separate venue of Casa, where people could hang out late and blast music,” Slaine said. “This is a space that is welcome for post-12 a.m. drinks and also a retreat for the industry professionals in the area.”
The boys have decided to divide and conquer — Slaine lives in Florida, but flies back once a month to check on things. Halberg, however, finds himself running back and forth between Harding's and Casa Neta about four times a day, which he calculates to be 1,056 feet a day (in case you were curious). Pruitt is now posted at Casa Neta full-time, even though he does move back and forth between the two for management meetings, or to “sneak a Harding's burger to break up my dietary onslaught of tacos,” he said
Slaine said he loves the queso fundido because, well, he just loves cheese, especially when melted to gooey perfection.
“Also, I don't drink alcohol, so I always love relying on Cody and the team to make me amazing mocktails, off the menu,” he said.
Most recently, Pruitt designed a cocktail that is literally delivered with a flaming lime - sorry, we mean cal ardiente.