Henderson Mexican restaurants reopen year after unsolved arson fires

HENDERSON, N.C. (WTVD) -- Morgan Lawhorne is back at work managing the new Habanero Grill in Henderson.

"It feels great. We're grateful to be here. A lot bigger, newer; we're just trying to grow into the new space right now," Lawhorne said.

Nine months ago, Habanero's old space was torched by an arsonist.

The culprit was seen on security video breaking into the Mexican restaurant and stealing money before setting it ablaze.

Surveillance image of arson suspect.

At the time, the restaurant had only been open for two months.

"I had no idea who would do such a thing. We were just making a name for ourselves," Lawhorne said.

Three weeks before Habanero's fire, authorities say an arsonist set fire to Mazatlan, another Mexican restaurant in town.

Authorities are still investigating to determine whether the two crimes are connected.

"It's devastating," said Saul Tavera, of Mazatlan restaurant.

Tavera and his wife, Amanda, manage Mazatlan's new location, which just reopened in downtown Henderson.

Canaday Greene is happy they're back.

"Every time I come they've been busy," Greene said.

The Taveras said it was a tough decision to reopen after two decades in business knowing their restaurant may have been targeted.

"You have to learn to forgive, let it go and move on with your life. You can't live in the past. And dwell on what happened. We are blessed to have the opportunity to have this space," Amanda Tavera said.

Both businesses said they want to expand to other locations, including rebuilding where they once stood.

If you have information about the person seen in the security video, call Crimestoppers at (252) 492-1925. There's a $2,000 cash reward for a tip that leads to an arrest.
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