SAN MARCOS — A venerable and popular San Marcos Italian restaurant recently closed its doors after nearly 20 years at its Grand Avenue location, but the owners said they will be reopening in a new location in the coming months.
Carmela’s Cucina Italiana occupied the rustic, two-story building tucked away in the rear of a shopping center off of Grand and San Marcos Boulevard for 19 1/2 years.
However, the owners said, they could not reach an acceptable lease agreement with the new property owners, which forced them to leave the popular location.
“They didn’t want to do anything for me, they just wanted to take money,” said Zoran “Zoro” Lakovic, who co-owned the restaurant with his wife, Carmela. “It’s hard to leave, but we had to.”
A message on the restaurant’s website explains the situation to visitors and reaffirms the plans to reopen in a location that both suits the owners and is in fair proximity to the old location
“Bear in mind, this will not happen next week, but it will happen. We will be back!” the message concludes.
Carmela’s has been a fixture in the San Marcos dining community since it opened, rapidly gaining both popular and critical success. Most recently, the restaurant received a Certificate of Excellence from the travel website TripAdvisor.com and regularly was listed among the top Italian restaurants in the county.
The restaurant also breathed life into the small shopping center, whose tenants include a massage parlor, yoga studio, quilt shop and a bookstore.
“It was a great anchor, and it really generated a lot of traffic,” said Joy Thompson, who operates the massage parlor adjacent to the restaurant. “And their food was excellent. If I were a thief, I would steal the recipes.”
Lakovic, born in Montenegro, traveled the world as a merchant marine before immigrating to the U.S. and settling in New Jersey, where he met Carmela, whose family owns several restaurants in that state. They moved to San Marcos in 1996 and opened Carmela’s the same year.
“We just applied that food and our hospitality in this area,” Lakovic said.
Lakovic said the family hasn’t had to look for a new site; in fact, they have been bombarded with offers to relocate in almost every North County city. But he said the family will take a couple of months to rest and then will make a decision on where they will land.
“I am just going to breathe and figure it out,” Lakovic said. “I’m definitely not scared, I know that we have a following and they will come back. We just need a little break.”
The Lakovic family thanked their customers for years of loyal patronage and for their patience.