The flagship Casa Molina on East Speedway has been closed since a kitchen fire in April 2022.

The family that owns the flagship Casa Molina Mexican restaurant on East Speedway took out a demolition permit in early May, but the family hasn’t decided if it will actually take the wrecking ball to the 8,250-square-foot restaurant.

In a prepared statement emailed to the Star on Tuesday, May 21, Chris Hallquist, the third generation to run the family’s Casa Molina and El Molinito restaurants, said the family is “carefully considering the best path forward to honor the legacy of Casa Molina while navigating these economic realities” that include post-pandemic financial challenges and increased operating costs.

“We recognize the importance of Casa Molina to Tucson’s heritage, and we are committed to exploring all possible options to restore and maintain this iconic establishment,” the statement read.

Casa Molina, 6225 E. Speedway, has been closed since an April 2022 grease fire in the kitchen that caused extensive heat damage to the electrical system and kitchen appliances, according to a city inspectors report. The kitchen’s hood suppression system also failed to activate, the report stated.

City inspectors at the time of the fire identified multiple code violations to the restaurant’s electrical infrastructure that pre-existed the fire, according to city documents. Other issues noted in the report included apparent roof leaks and missing hardware on multiple conduit runs.

Subsequent inspections that May, uncovered several electrical and fire extinguishing system issues that needed to be resolved before they would allow the restaurant to reopen, according to city documents. The city also ordered the restaurant to replace the exhaust hood.

The city approved the restaurant’s demolition permit on May 2. It is good through October, but Hallquist, in a brief phone call on Tuesday, said they have not decided if that will be the route they take.

Casa Molina was the genesis of a family dynasty of Mexican restaurants that included four brands and nine locations throughout the city beginning with the flagship, which Gilbert Molina opened on East Speedway in 1947. The restaurant’s signature landmark was a matador placing his cape over the giant El Toro black bull that Molina placed on a concrete pedestal in the parking lot.

Molina opened a second location on East Broadway in 1963; it is still in business at 3001 N. Campbell Ave.

Other Molina family spinoffs include:

Molina’s Midway, which Gilbert Molina’s brother Elias opened in 1953. It closed in spring 2017.

Las Margaritas on North Oracle Road, which Elias’s daughter Tillie Valle opened in 1980; seven years later, they opened a second location on Grant Road. Both are now closed.

El Molinito, launched by Gilbert Molina’s daughter Margaret and her husband Wayne Lee Hallquist on East 22nd Street in the early 1970s. The brand has grown to four locations, owned by the couple’s son, Wayne A. Hallquist, and run by their grandson, Chris.


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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@tucson.com. On Twitter @Starburch