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Fiesta came to an end for Casa de Salsa restaurant

Owners Roberto and Judy Flores have closed the doors on their beloved family-style Mexican restaurant, saying adios after nearly 13 years in business.

“We didn’t go out of business because we had no business,” Ms. Flores told the COURIER. “We closed because the property owner didn’t renew our lease.”

According to Ms. Flores, the restaurant lease was set to expire on December 31, 2014. The terms of the agreement dictated that the couple was to give three months notice if they chose to extend their lease beyond the scheduled end date. However, with Mr. Flores recovering from surgery in early October, the restaurateurs missed the deadline and received notice from the property management that indeed, their lease would expire at the end of the year.

“We tried to accommodate them the best we could,” said property manager Ying Lee. “We did not terminate their lease. They failed to exercise the option. If it was not for our accommodation, they would have been out of business a long time ago.”

Soon after receiving notice, the Floreses met with property owner Harry Wu of Claremont Star LP, who bought The Old School House and Griswold’s complex in 2005, and asked what they could do to remain on the premises. Mr. Wu told the couple there was nothing more that could be done, and Casa de Salsa closed its doors for the last time on Sunday, November 9.

“Everything happened so fast, we were shocked,” Ms. Flores said. “At first we were angry, then we said, ‘This is happening for reason.’ If they really wanted us there, this wouldn’t be a problem.”

The restaurant, with its patio and hacienda-style seating, had been a fixture at The Old School House since 2002. Casa de Salsa remained open during the complex’s extensive renovation in 2007, although the dramatic drop in sales during construction left the business with tax issues that the owners say they were rectifying. As part of the payment agreement with the IRS, the couple was required to provide a copy of their lease. Since they no longer had a lease, they left the restaurant and its contents “as is” and locked the doors behind them.

“We had been making our tax payments. But our attorney said leaving everything there was the best thing to do,” said Ms. Flores. “It should take care of everything we owe, but it’s up to the IRS.”

With the 7,000-square-foot space once occupied by Casa de Salsa now vacant, the owner and property manager are eager to find a tenant. Mr. Lee confirms that both the owner and the city would like to see another restaurant in the space, although he denies negotiations are already underway.

“We have people contact us from time to time, but not seriously where we would do a negotiation effort with the individual or entity yet,” he said.

One potential candidate could be Sartaj Singh, owner of several local establishments including the Magic Lamp Inn in Upland and Sixty6 Sports Lounge in Rancho Cucamonga. Mr. Singh, president of Ssb Partners, Inc., expressed interest in the property and shared his vision for a future restaurant with the COURIER.

“If we were to move forward, we would do an upscale steakhouse. Something modern,” says Mr. Singh. “We are working on it but nothing has been done yet.”

Ms. Flores isn’t surprised that investors may be waiting in the wings for the space, although she is disappointed.

“I have been looking at these investors coming into our restaurant for about a year,” she says. “It would have been okay if somebody else had come into Casa with some hopes and dreams. But someone that comes in with money that we don’t have, it just makes me sad.”

Although Casa de Salsa is no more, the Flores family wants to thank their customers for their loyalty and support. The many friendships and life lessons gained over the years will continue to resonate with them.

“Boyd Clarke, who would come to our restaurant every single day at the same time for years always said to us, ‘Somebody helped me, so I help others.’ We were able to do that for 12 years. That’s what we take from Casa de Salsa.”

Mr. and Ms. Flores are looking towards the future, including taking a much-needed holiday and exploring the possibility of another eatery in Claremont.

“We have a couple of investors who are interested in opening another restaurant,” says Ms. Flores. “We’ve done it once, we can do it again. We’re still young, we still have energy and we still have dreams. We are the fiesta. We are Casa de Salsa!”

—Angela Bailey

news@claremont-courier.com

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