Baja Sonora to Keep On Trucking

Steve Propes

What is about to happen locally will perhaps be unique to the known dining industry: shrink a wildly successful 72-seat dining spot into a taco truck until a building remodel is complete in a half-year’s time.

The 50-year lease on the Time Square Shopping Center at the 2900 block of Clark Avenue, just south of Spring Street is about to lapse and the center, owned by Wolfe Properties in St. Louis, will commence a complete remodel in early 2017.

In June, Wolfe met with all seven tenants and showed an artist rendering of an upcoming remodel.

According to Mike Mendelsohn of Baja Sonora, the group was told, “You’re all going to be closed for six months. Everyone gets January to move out and we will start to renovate in February,” meaning a new façade, new roof, new plumbing, new electrical, everything brought up to code and a new parking lot.

Busy hours at Baja Sonora make parking a challenge. “There are 38 spaces in total,” said Mendelsohn, “But on an average day, 10 are taken up by owners and employees.” Sixteen spaces are at the hard-to-reach sides of the center, with 22 spaces in front.

This parking crunch will ease after the remodel, but until fall 2017, current tenants will be closed, either relocating or deciding whether to reopen again or not.

Pops Burgers closed at the converted Taco Bell as rent was slated to triple. The accountant moved near the Long Beach Towne Center to be open during tax season. The New England Divers shop will move to Los Alamitos. The University Trophy Store, a Time Square tenant for 46 years, will move to 4221 E. Willow St. on Jan. 3.

Time Square Liquor & Food Mart has yet to make a decision. “We’ve been owners for 12 years, but it was open before that. We are sorry to close,” said Annie, who thanked her longtime customer base. At best, the store would close for eight months, six months for remodeling, two months to restock. Alex of Myako Japanese restaurant indicated plans to move, but gave no more specific information whether he would return or not.

As to Baja Sonora, the plan is to stay in a taco truck parked on Clark in front of the site.

As the Los Alamitos or Bixby Knolls Baja Sonora locations can’t absorb employees, Mendelsohn hopes to minimize lay-offs of his currently dozen employees. He can place about half that number in the taco truck. “When the center reopens, we will reopen. It’s kind of a short term solution in an effort to keep focused on our brand, keep a core group of our employees, who’ve been with us for 19 years. We can’t use a bus boy in a truck, there’s no room. We can’t wait to come back."

Some employees in two large buildings across on Clark to the west with Port of Long Beach, VA purchasing, the FBI, Frontier Communications and the Auto Club offices are known to take lunch at Baja. Mendelsohn plans to “go across the street, knock on doors. We’re going to be out there serving breakfast.”

Baja Sonora’s popularity exploded in March 2000 when it was featured in Sunset Magazine as one of the area’s best by readers. “We were among 30 out of 200 nominated restaurants. The roof blew off the place. It was wild, people planned their vacations over that. We got calls from San Diego, asking ‘do you take reservations?’ and from Beverly Hills, ‘is there dress code?’ Someone had to come here from Sunset to make sure it wasn’t a joke or an empty lot. We were so new, I was still working the register.”

Mendelsohn expects no resistance from the city. “I’ve talked to health department, special events and public works. We know Stacey Mungo as well as anyone in the Fifth District.”

The remodel is expected to cost $1 million, though Mendelsohn thinks it will cost more. “They spent $1.4 million to buy the land. Some people have told me they haven’t visited because it’s an unattractive center. There’ll be two restrooms instead of one and will be an ADA bathroom, instead of the current unisex bathroom and another for employees.”

Danny of University Trophy expects the rent double after the remodel.

The taco truck will be open to around 4:30 or 5 p.m. and will leave at sunset. “We’ll take it to a commissary, a business where you clean it, dispose of water and oil.” Mendelsohn will also take the truck to special events, using a front fender address to attract customers. “We’ve been so successful. It would be a shame if the next restaurant at the address isn’t a Baja Sonora,” a fanciful name he selected “that sounded pleasant.”



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