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Take the usual stress of running a restaurant, then place panhandlers and a growing homeless population just outside the door, and it's no wonder that Pete Henderson decided it was time to sell Rio Grande Cafe.

Henderson finalized the sale of his 36-year-old restaurant at 270 S. Rio Grande St., inside Salt Lake City's Rio Grande Depot, this week.

"I'm worn out dealing with day-to-day security issues," the 67-year-old told The Salt Lake Tribune during a telephone interview. "The local government failed me, which is really unfortunate, but that is why I choose to pass the reins on to someone else."

Utah restaurant owners Byron Lovell and Brian O'Meara are the new owners. They have temporarily closed the restaurant to build a new kitchen and to add a fresh coat of paint. When it reopens in a few weeks, Rio Grande guests can enjoy the same menu of tacos, enchiladas and other Mexican fare.

"Nothing is really changing," Lovell said. Well-known restaurant fixtures like the train, the jukebox and the "taco lady" will remain. And because it's a historic building, constructed in 1910, the wooden bar and trim also will remain.

The cafe is the fourth restaurant for Lovell and O'Meara. They own Porcupine Pub and Grille eateries in Salt Lake City and Cottonwood Heights, as well as The Dodo in Sugar House. The restaurants are operated under the Canyon Culinary Inc. umbrella.

Henderson opened the Rio Grande Cafe in 1981. It wasn't until later that the Road Home homeless shelter opened down the street, growing from 175 beds to more than 1,000. The St. Vincent de Paul overflow shelter is across the street.

The crush of homeless people and crime had reached a critical stage in recent months, Henderson said; he had lost customers, plunging from 12,000 diners a month to about 6,000, and his son was smacked around by some homeless men as he tried to stop them from bothering customers on the outdoor patio.

That's when Henderson decided to call Lovell, who had said years before that he would buy the restaurant whenever Henderson was ready.

"Now is the time," Henderson said a few months ago to Lovell, who had been a customer for more than 30 years.

"My wife," Lovell said, "and I ate here when we were dating in college, and when she was pregnant, this was the food she craved."

Lovell said he and O'Meara believe the homeless situation can only improve, especially because Salt Lake City has said it will close The Road Home by June 2019. The homeless population will be served in two 200-bed shelters at 131 E. 700 South and 275 W. High Ave. Another shelter will now be sited outside city limits in Salt Lake County,

"It's the perfect time to get involved in this neighborhood," said Lovell, who hopes the purchase of Rio Grande Cafe draws people back to the neighborhood.

"We're trying to figure out a way to use the restaurant as a place to raise a lot of money for the shelters," he said. "What we don't want is to have this neighborhood close down and have things go away. The more traffic that comes through, the better for them and for the city."

As for Henderson, he will miss his loyal customers and his dedicated staff, but he plans to spend the next few years remodeling old houses he purchased years ago in Panguitch and Mount Pleasant.

"Under different circumstances, it would have been lovely to have my family carry on the tradition," he said. "But I found a guy that embraces the restaurant as it is."