Local Mexican Restaurant to Close After 52 Years

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Mario's Part I

After many years in business, Mario's La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant is being handed over to new owners.



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Mario's Part II

After many years in business, Mario's La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant is being handed over to new owners.


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As small independent businesses in Berkeley continue to struggle, Mario's La Fiesta Mexican Restaurant is slated to close after 52 years, though a similar establishment under new ownership will open up in its place.

After more than half a century of serving the city with its family recipes, Mario's on Haste Street just off of Telegraph Avenue will soon be under the new management, as current owners Mario and Rosalinda Tejada will transfer ownership of the business to a close friend, who will run a similar restaurant under the name Remy's Mexican Restaurant.

According to Mario Tejada, Juan Manuel Lopez - a former owner of Manny's Tap Room and a former manager at Raleigh's American Pub & Grill - will keep the establishment's atmosphere and menu, as most of the current staff and the chef will remain at the restaurant.

Mario Tejada said that Lopez has many ideas, including music, for drawing new customers to the restaurant and added that there is a strong possibility that he and Rosalinda will remain involved with the business.

Though Mario's has maintained its loyal customers around the Bay Area, business in the past year has slowed with a one-third loss in revenue.

"2010 was disappointing," Mario Tejada said. "(Business was) down, down, down."

The Tejadas opened their restaurant on the corner of Telegraph and Haste in 1959 and moved to their current location following the 50-year anniversary of its establishment and expiration of their leasing contract.

Rosalinda Tejada said it was always her dream to open a restaurant, as she spent her childhood in Mexico, learning to cook from her mother. According to Mario Tejada, by the time he and his wife moved to Berkeley in 1954, there were not many Mexican restaurants, with the exception of several "Americanized" ones.

"(It was) nothing like Mexico," he said, adding that customers enjoyed Mario's because of its original flavor and spices, which were especially "not like Taco Bell."

Soon after the Tejadas purchased the space for $3,000, Mario's La Fiesta opened with Rosalinda as the chef and Mario waiting tables. They started with only three or four tables and a long counter for customers, according to Mario Tejada.

During the 1960s, Mario's business grew rapidly in a time that Tejadas remember as their best years.

"Even on rainy days, they waited in lines around the corner with umbrellas," Rosalinda Tejada said.

Despite the popularity of the restaurant, its relocation off of Telegraph has placed strain on the business, as the new location failed to provide much foot traffic, according to Mario Tejada.

"Mario's used to be on Telegraph on the main street, and they did a lot better there," said Councilmember Kriss Worthington, adding that high rent prompted the move.

Tony Hernandez, manager of Gordo Taqueria - a Mexican food establishment also on Telegraph - said that though both Gordo and Mario's serve similar food, they differ in that Gordo is primarily a takeout establishment. He added that he sees La Burrita and Chipotle as his main competitors.

According to the Tejadas, there is still no definite date for when the new management will take over operations and that it is still in process.

Rosalinda Tejada said she feels nervous about the current situation and that the next step for the business remains uncertain.

"Too much pain in my heart. I was the first cook for La Fiesta," she said.

Tags: CHIPOTLE, TELEGRAPH AVENUE, KRISS WORTHINGTON, HASTE STREET, MARIO'S LA FIESTA MEXICAN RESTAURANT, REMY'S MEXICAN RESTAURANT, LA BURRITA


Contact Karinina Cruz and Jessica Rossoni at [email protected]



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