Salsa Picante closes doors

By Tom Spencer
On April 22, 2014

  • Salsa Picante in downtown Durham closed its doors in March after months of irregular hours and declining business. Cameron Johnson/Staff

Salsa Picante on 38 Main St. in downtown Durham has been vacant since early March. 

The Mexican restaurant opened in November 2013. The owner, Justin Hebert, made no official announcement that the young business would be closing.  

"In December, you could really see [Salsa Picante] wasn't working," said Steve Petrovitsis, the restaurant's landlord and owner of Durham House of Pizza (fondly known as DHOP). 

Petrovitsis believed the business collapsed for keeping irregular hours. Customers would find the restaurant closed during hours it advertised as open. 

"Super Bowl: it was closed; Patriots' games: it would be closed," Petrovitsis said. "You can't run a business like that." 

Salsa Picante's last tweet read "$5 everything any time all the time," from March 3, 2014. The previous tweet, dated Feb. 27, advertises $5 burritos, with a picture of the message written on the storefront window in soap. 

The soap is still on the windows. There are jugs of frying oil and tubs of chili powder on the back shelf. The last menu is still written in green marker on the white board above the cash register's station. There is an empty tips jar on one end of the counter, and a plastic skull decorating the other. 

The space is right next to DHOP. Justin Petrovitsis, a DHOP employee, said, "People like burritos, look at Chipotle ... but this is a tough neighborhood to do business in." 

"They would have done better if they'd stuck around," said Mike Glidden, who cuts hair at Main Street Barbers, next to DHOP. "That's the thing with businesses around here, you got to be here when your hours are." 

Hebert also owns Justin's Seafood Hut, a restaurant in Rye, New Hampshire. "From what [Hebert] told me, the [restaurant] was slow in winter because there's not a lot of tourists and stuff like that, so he was starting this one ... for the winter months," Glidden said. 

Though Salsa Picante was ultimately unsuccessful, there was another side to Justin Hebert. He hosted a fundraiser for Best Buddies International, a program that works with special needs patients, on Feb. 8, 2014.

Hebert donated 15 percent of the proceeds from any customer who mentioned Best Buddies to the organization. 

"[Hebert] was a very giving person. You can tell he really cares about the community and the importance of service," said Josh Dolman the treasurer of the Best Buddies UNH chapter. 

"He jumped at the idea of helping adults with disabilities and immediately agreed to the fundraiser," Dolman said. 

Attempts to reach Hebert through business or personal phone numbers and an email address were unsuccessful. 

"There were times when he was difficult to get in contact with because our schedules never seemed to coincide, but ... he made sure to live up to his commitment," Dolman said.  

"[Durham] isn't the super paradise [for businesses] everyone might think it is," Steve Petrovitsis said. "You have to work very hard, long hours." 

Petrovitsis' testimony carries a lot of weight. After all, he started with the Durham House of Pizza 38 years ago at the age of 19. 

"We're looking for a good stable tenant," Petrovitsis said of the now available space. "Someone who will be good to our community."

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