BY CHRIS MACIAS
cmacias@sacbee.com
A former Sacramento Kings player has joined the team behind an upcoming restaurant on the K Street Mall, near the city’s new arena.

Kenny Thomas, who played power forward for the Kings from 2004 to 2010, is among the co-owners of El Rey, a taqueria with a name that translates to “The King.” The Mexican eatery and bar, which is under construction at 711 K, is poised to capitalize on traffic from the Golden 1 Center being built a few blocks away on L Street.

Thomas joins an ownership group that includes Trevor Shults, a Sacramento restaurateur and nightclub owner who also oversees Barwest, Vanguard 1415, Social and Crawdads on the River. Fellow owners include Sacramento nightclub maven Bob Simpson, Randy Clyde and Thomas Heenan.

El Rey, which will open Aug. 11, is slated to be the first new restaurant to open in a steadily developing section of K Street near the Golden 1 Center. Malt & Mash, an Irish pub also owned by Shults, will open in a space adjacent to El Rey at 715 K St. on Aug. 27.

“This is a prime location,” said Thomas. “It just felt good. We all want to be successful, and this is my first experience in the restaurant business.”

This duo of new eateries will arrive about six weeks before the Golden 1 Center, the new home of the Sacramento Kings at 547 L Street, launches its grand opening on Oct. 4 with a sold-out concert by Paul McCartney.

The restaurants are housed on the ground floor of the Oschner Building, which was built in 1895. A third eatery operated by Shults and Simpson will complete the 14,000-square -foot development. The name and theme of that restaurant, which will also be co-owned by Thomas, has yet to be announced.

“The whole point is to have all these concepts running good,” said Thomas. “If we’re getting traffic, I think all of these concepts are going to do fine.”

El Rey will be able to accommodate more than 200 customers, who will be seated in a selection of booths and community tables. The menu will focus on tacos and other Mexican foods, while the bar program will highlight mescal, the agave-based Mexican spirit.

“It’s a very high energy taqueria,” said Shults. “We expect it to be loud, vibrant, fun – a lot of conversation going on. You’ll see a lot of house smoked meats, braised meats and house cured meats.”

Thomas, who was known in the NBA as “K9,” joins the ranks of a few former Sacramento Kings players who invested in local restaurants.

Vlade Divac, who currently serves as vice president of basketball operations and general manager of the Kings, was the co-owner of Old Sacramento’s Tunel 21 restaurant and nightclub. The former Sacramento Kings center also served as the co-owner of L’Image, a now defunct French bistro that was located at the Pavilions shopping center on Fair Oaks Boulevard.

Chris Webber, the Kings’ celebrated power forward from 1998 to 2005, opened his Center Court restaurant near the former Arco Arena in 2006. The family style eatery and sports bar closed abruptly in 2009, and Webber was sued for nearly $3 million in lease payments and other fees by the owners of the Promenade at Sacramento Gateway Shopping Center.

Maloof Sports & Entertainment LLC, the former ownership group of the Sacramento Kings, sued Webber in 2010 to collect payment for marketing work related to the restaurant, but dropped the lawsuit a week after filing in Sacramento Superior Court.

Thomas has remained a Sacramento resident since retiring from the NBA. His post-basketball career endeavors have included real estate investment and creating a line of bottled water, Infinity 02, which was carried at some of Shults’ nightspots.

Thomas plans to use his connections in the worlds of professional sports and entertainment to draw traffic and boost the profile of El Rey. He ultimately hopes to bring El Rey to other cities with NBA teams.

“I would love to take El Rey and carry it on,” he said.

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