Restaurant leader talks Iguana Joe’s Port Neches arrival: Playground & stage included

Published 12:14 am Wednesday, February 5, 2020

PORT NECHES — Iguana Joe’s opened for business in May 1996 in Mont Belvieu, extending its casual Tex-Mex infusion to Baytown, Houston, Crosby and Atascocita.

Now, the lore of the Mexican Cuisine is drawn to an up-and-coming riverfront revitalization project in Port Neches.

A letter of intent approved in late January 2019 places the new restaurant adjacent to Neches River Wheelhouse on Lee Avenue, making it the second dining option along the river.

Iguana Joe’s is set to be the second restaurant to adorn the Port Neches River as a part of a riverfront revitalization plan.

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General Manager Victor Ybarra said the Port Neches property is going to be bigger, better and custom tailored to the Indian spirit and lifestyle.

“We are customizing this entire restaurant to the city of Port Neches,” Ybarra said. “This is the first time we are doing this. We will have an Indian head painted on the wall. The words Port Neches will be written on the side of the building, and purple and white decorations will all give it a hometown feel.”

Ybarra, who currently resides in Mont Belvieu, said he admires the football-orientated, small-town vibes the city offers and wants to tailor to the fighting soul of the city.

“Whenever football games are there, the whole town goes to the games,” he said. “So we want it to be a place where everyone can go too and enjoy themselves.”

The 12,000-square feet building will host an indoor dining area, outdoor patio with furniture, a stage and playground.

A sketching of the Iguana Joe’s along the Port Neches River shows the unique touches that will be added to the restaurant.

“The adults can sit inside and have food and drinks or sit outside and watch the music while the kids can play,” Ybarra said. “That way, everyone has something to do.”

Ybarra said while his original plan included taking over an old Mexican restaurant in Port Arthur, he is happy with the element the Port Neches restaurant will bring to his business.

“I had been looking to expand to Southeast Texas for awhile,” he said. “I was about to buy a restaurant on Highway 69. The hurricane messed this building up so the owner and I agreed on a purchasing price, but at the last minute the seller went to another banker who was willing to give him more money.

“It really screwed us up but then someone from Port Neches contacted me about doing something on the river as part of this new development. He asked if I was interested and I was.”

Ybarra said plans include situating the restaurant to face the water and cater to the breathtaking views of the river.

A sketching shows the Iguana Joe’s floor plan.

“We’re going to have these glass doors separating the indoor sitting area and outside,” he said. “We want to have that separation to be able to open it up during nice weather but close it off during bad weather. We want everything pointing towards the water because that’s the view people want to see.”

According to Ybarra, construction should begin by late July or early August.

“Everything is coming along,” Ybarra said. “The city still has some things they need to do before we can move in there, but the drawings and main planning is done.”

Ybarra said he is expecting this one-of-a-kind restaurant to reach new heights.

“It’s going to be a big restaurant and we expect it to do well,” he said. “I’m expecting it to bring a lot more business than any other storefront.”

Ybarra drew his design inspiration from a restaurant called “The Rustic” in Houston, noting concrete floors, cedar fencing and oxidized metal on the exterior with quirky furniture, festive colors, unique lighting and art on the inside.

“There isn’t going to be anything else like it out there,” he said.