Photo By: Ellie Van Houtte/ Town Crier
After more than five decades in Los Altos, Estrellita’s Mexican Restaurant shuttered operations last week, the result of rising rent. Owner Russell Clark said the closure could be temporary if a new ownership group can renegotiate the lease.
The end may be in sight for a restaurant that has called Los Altos home for more than 50 years.
Estrellita’s Mexican Restaurant owner Russell Clark told the Town Crier that he closed the doors of his 55-year-old business – perhaps for good – last week after struggling financially for more than a year. Clark said the property that housed his restaurant shifted to new ownership last year, resulting in his monthly rent nearly tripling to $9,000.
Soon after, he began to fall behind on rent payments, leading to a since-settled lawsuit. On March 6, however, he received an eviction notice, forcing him to close the Mexican restaurant on San Antonio Road, which has been owned by his family since the late 1970s.
“If I really start thinking about it, it would just be too much,” Clark said, noting the history of the restaurant, open since 1958.
Clark’s Aunt Corlay purchased the business from its founders, the Bustamante family, in 1978. His mother, Beatrice, served as the restaurant’s manager for 14 years before Clark purchased the business from his aunt in 2003.
Still, Clark said, all hope is not lost. He recently reached an agreement to sell the business to an ownership group that includes a family member. The sale, however, hinges on the group’s coming to terms on a new lease, which would allow the restaurant to reopen in the near future.
“I’ve been trying to work this out for a year now,” he said of his financial issues, adding that he’s been trying to sell the business “in earnest” for the past three months.
Clark, 42, said he also considered relocating the restaurant but found that option to be less than desirable.
“It’s very sad to think it might not go on if this sale doesn’t go through,” said Clark, a Mountain View resident who grew up in the area, attended Egan Junior High School and graduated from Los Altos High in 1989. “(An agreement) could actually take place as soon as today or tomorrow. … I’m hoping they can finalize a (lease) agreement in the next couple of days so the restaurant won’t have to stay closed much longer.”
Regardless of its future, Clark said he’d cherish countless fond memories of the restaurant, such as helping his mother when he was only 10 and the numerous family birthday parties and Christmas dinners celebrated there throughout the years.
He has received messages of support from longtime customers, including one Los Altos family that offered to pay approximately half of his court settlement – no strings attached.
“I have a lot of customers who remember the original owners,” said Clark, who plans to update patrons on the ownership status of the restaurant through its Facebook page. “The support has been great. It’s been great to be a part of this community.”
For more information, visit www.facebook.com/pages/Estrellita-Restaurant/133398709061.