The Coast News Group
After 22 years in business, El Callejon will close Jan. 30. Roberto Jourdain, the restaurant chain's chief financial officer, said he’s uncertain about the restaurant’s future. Photo by Tony Cagala
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El Callejon, a fixture in downtown, to relocate

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.


Gale October 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm

I am sorry to see the restaurant go but also sorry that I did not use my living social vouchers. I only recently (about a month or so ago), went to have dinner at El Callejon to use my $30 paid value that does not expire to find the restaurant shut down. I called Living Social to request deal bucks and they claim my $30 is ineligible. I would like to know who is responsible for refunding me the $30 either in cash or some form of credit??

Jeff April 19, 2016 at 8:37 pm

I will really miss this place. My father has been working here since before I was born and 18 years later, he still did. It broke his heart when he found out the restaurant was closing. I’ve been coming here every weekend and just to find out it won’t be here anymore crushes me but its legacy will live on. Place is gone but the memories won’t be forgotten

Mcghee February 15, 2016 at 11:14 pm

This was our Friday night rendezvous and now its gone after all the years they’ve been there. So we are done with Moonlight Plaza. Such a shame. I hope they are close but doubt it but may wherever they land be successful. We wish them well and will miss going there.

Patti January 21, 2016 at 10:38 pm

I am really sad to read this. El Callejon is by far the best Mexian restaurant in town. Our family loves going there, not looking at the menu and ordering our usual. The service was good, well usually. I enjoyed seeing the same wait staff. Their salsa is the best! This place is such a fixture in town. It is unbelievable they weren’t given five minutes to talk. That’s just rude. We will follow El Callejon but I doubt we will follow Moonlight Plaza.

Lisa Worrick January 18, 2016 at 2:57 pm

I will miss El Callejon. I have been a customer for several years. It is sad that Encinitas is loosing such a fun restaurant. There is no substitution for this great place. It is especially sad when the owners are not even given a chance to continue to provide their service. It sounds to me like this property owner has a better deal with someone else and it boils down to GREED!

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