Mariscos to be renovated, rebranded as ‘J. Wilson’s’

Cheesy Crab Tots at Mariscos, 4821 W. Sixth St.

Contrary to what some hapless customers might think, the restaurant owned by Nancy and Rick Renfro at 4821 W. Sixth St. is not Maceli’s, nor does it serve Italian food or tacos.

It’s Mariscos — but not for much longer. The upscale eatery, which you might’ve visited for a special-occasion steak or seafood dinner, is undergoing a rebranding and renovation process set to wrap this summer and will henceforth be known as J. Wilson’s, Nancy Renfro told the Journal-World on Monday.

“Cosmetically it’ll change, menu-wise it’ll be tweaked, but generally it’s just a facelift,” says Nancy, who’s kept the rebranding on her backburner since taking over operations at Mariscos in 2010. “We wanted to change the name to something that is a meaningful name for us now.”

For those not in the know, the Renfros also own Johnny’s Tavern. Rick bought the original spot at 401 N. Second St. in 1978, and the couple has seen Johnny’s expanded to west Lawrence and the Kansas City area. J. Wilson’s, Nancy says, is a nod to the longtime bar’s first owner, John T. Wilson.

Since getting their start at Johnny’s Tavern, the Renfros’ tastes have evolved. Mariscos started out in 2001 specializing in Southwestern seafood dishes (the name itself means “seafood” in Spanish), which explains the Southwestern design motifs scattered around the restaurant and the mild confusion surrounding its menu, says Nancy, who classifies Mariscos as leaning more toward “New American” cuisine these days.

The aesthetics will change, but the menu, by and large, won’t.

“We’re probably going to keep the all-time favorites that people love and tweak them a bit to make them more up-to-date and contemporary,” says Nancy, who plans to keep Mariscos steak and seafood dishes on the streamlined menu while rotating in more locally sourced and seasonal features.

Nancy envisions a sort of understated “New York supper club” vibe with dark woods, upgraded flooring and softer lighting (to replace Mariscos’ “spotlight”-style bulbs), and more seating to allow for bigger gatherings. One of the major changes is moving the entrance to the west side of the building, so that patrons will face a renovated bar area (which will be rebranded Wilson’s Bar, complete with banquette seating and “Bar Plates,” which I’m guessing are sort of like tapas) as they walk in. The Renfros are also planning on removing the walls that now separate the main area from a private dining room to allow for more seating, though Nancy says she’s installing drapes to section off areas for “smaller parties.”

Mariscos (or J. Wilson’s, we should say) will remain open throughout renovations, which should be complete sometime this summer. Nancy isn’t offering any specifics yet, but says the new menu should debut around the same time. In the meantime, I’ll try to stay in the loop and keep up with any developments that pop up.

“It’s really exciting and I love all the things that are going on in that neck of the woods, with Rock Chalk Park and the new apartments and home construction,” Nancy says. “I think we’ll be a good, solid base for people who want to eat in their locally owned restaurant … that’s who we’re going to be when we open up.”