The Mexican restaurant El Callejon recently closed its doors after 22 years at Moonlight Plaza in Encinitas, despite a last-ditch online petition to keep it open.
“It’s overwhelming, not only in the sense of losing your job, but also in the sense of losing community and people not being happy with the situation,” said Roberto Jourdain, the chief financial officer of El Callejon. The restaurant’s last day was Feb. 6.
The building’s property manager in mid-2015 notified El Callejon that it would have to move, according to Jourdain. In an attempt to work out a solution, Jourdain said that he called and sent letters to relevant parties, but never heard back.
When it started, El Callejon had a five-year lease, and after the agreement expired, the terms changed to a month-to-month lease. Jourdain said he didn’t anticipate any problems with the lease arrangement because for nearly 17 years restaurant management had a good relationship with the property owners, which an online search identified as the Rotsheck family. He added that changed when younger members of the family took over.
“Things weren’t as smooth as they used to be, and with no contract, you have no recourse,” Jourdain said.
Lee Rotsheck, a real estate agent, did not return a request to comment on the matter and future plans for the space.
Jourdain said the closure hurts because the restaurant was doing OK and had community support, as evidenced by a change.org petition that called for the restaurant to stay open. Posted on Jan. 31, it garnered more than 1,200 signatures in less than three days.
His goal now is to find a suitable location to reopen El Callejon, preferably in Encinitas but he’s also eyeing other North County spots. The restaurant was set to relocate to Rancho Santa Fe, yet that deal fell through at the eleventh hour.
Kelly McLaughlin, who launched the petition, said she hopes the momentum behind the petition motivates customers to frequent wherever El Callejon opens next. She was moved to act after seeing the smiling people who packed into El Callejon about a week before it shuttered.
“The restaurant always felt like an extended family,” McLaughlin said. “What I didn’t realize is how many other people felt this way too. The crowd was notably upset to be losing them.”
Mary Mancera, who signed the petition, said she too is sad to see El Callejon go.
“I can’t say any better what the thousand plus people on the petition said: El Callejon was a treasured landmark for locals like no other,” Mancera wrote. “Residents seem pretty clear about what they want in the community, so it’s evident this is an unwelcome change.”
El Callejon was known for its outdoor patio space, margaritas, tacos and tequila.
It employed about 50 people, and roughly half of the employees were full time. Jourdain said it’s remarkable that the employees didn’t miss any shifts in the restaurant’s last week, adding he’d like to find another location as soon as possible to retain as many people as possible.
“We’re very thankful to the community and our loyal employees who stuck with us until the last minute.”