ENCINITAS — El Callejon has served Mexican food and margaritas to three generations of Encinitas patrons from its tropical-blue colored venue and courtyard in the Moonlight Plaza at the corner of Encinitas Boulevard and Coast Highway 101.
On Jan. 30, the good times will come to an end. El Callejon is leaving its prime location in downtown after being forced to relocate by the property owner.
“We have made the decision to move on,” said Roberto Jourdain, the restaurant chain’s chief financial officer. “We don’t particularly like the situation, but there is nothing we can do. I have to find a way to continue my business. I can’t just sit here and let it die.”
Jourdain, who took over ownership after his brother, Bernard Jourdain, started a new restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, said he is in the final stages of locking up a new lease, but the new location is not in Encinitas.
The Mexican food restaurant, known for its courtyard dining area and its vast tequila section, has been in business in Encinitas for 22 years, all in the Moonlight Plaza location.
Recently, however, the heirs of the previous property owners abruptly told Jourdain that they would be moving in a different direction and that the restaurant was out.
Jourdain said they couldn’t dispute the decision because the restaurant had operated without a lease for the past 17 years.
“We had a five year lease, and when the time came to renew, one thing led to another, and we’ve been here 17 years without a lease,” Jourdain said. “You figure that after 22 years, no one wants you out. We were wrong about that.”
Jourdain said the property owners, the Rotsheck family, would not give him a reason for the decision, despite numerous attempts to work out an amicable solution. He said he attempted to work through the property management company before attempting to contact one of the family member’s directly, to no avail.
Jourdain said he offered to pay six months of rent in advance “to smooth things out.” But the owners, through the plaza manager, refused the offer. When he attempted to contact the family member, he said he received a call from the property manager who said the family would not speak to him.
“I asked him, ‘they are not willing to give me five minutes after 22 years?'” Jourdain said. “And he said, ‘Yes, the decision is final.’
“When they are not willing to answer the phone after 22 years, I am not going to beg,” Jourdain said.
The Coast News was able to reach Lee Rotsheck, a real estate agent in San Diego, who declined comment on behalf of the family.
Patrons and downtown merchants alike are reacting with shock to the closure of one of downtown’s mainstay restaurants.
“El Callejon has been a fixture in the Moonlight Plaza for over two decades,” said Dave Peck, the president of the Encinitas 101 MainStreet Association. “The courtyard dining experience and the bar’s legendary tequila selection will be missed. For good or ill, change in our downtown district is inevitable.”
Thora Guthrie, MainStreet’s executive director, said the news is indicative of the change.
“I don’t know what to say, I am heartbroken,” Guthrie said. “I really see a lot of change happening down here, part of it is that property values are so high, there are some absentee owners, and there are other owners who have inherited properties and may not know the businesses. I don’t know what the situation is, but it is one of the old standby restaurants and I am shocked and I wish there was something we could do about it.”
Jourdain said he is uncertain about the restaurant’s future, especially moving away from his faithful clientele base along the coast.
“You have a community that likes to hang around close to the coast, and who of those customers is wiling to follow us remains to be seen,” Jourdain said. “Wherever you go, that character isn’t going to be there, too. So, whether the customers are loyal to El Callejon for what it is, or the character at the location also remains to be seen.”
El Callejon also saw its other location, in downtown Vista, shut down last year after its 10-year-run in Vista Village.