Tucson restaurant closings erase 144 years of experience

2013-09-18T00:00:00Z 2014-07-16T11:30:30Z Tucson restaurant closings erase 144 years of experienceBy Cathalena E. Burch Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

El Mezon del Cobre Mexican restaurant celebrated its 23rd anniversary in August.

It will serve its final meal on Sept. 30, joining a growing list of Tucson restaurants to throw in the towel after being in business 20 years or longer.

Since April, four other longtime Tucson restaurants — Venice Restaurant & Pizzeria, Chad’s Steakhouse & Saloon, El Parador Restaurant and Anthony’s in the Catalinas — have closed. Between them they clocked in 144 years in business; El Parador on East Broadway was the longest-running of the bunch with 40 years when it closed in early July.

Most of the restaurants, which announced their closures on Facebook, cited the economy for their demise. Mary and Jack Weger realized the recession had gotten the best of them when they closed their longtime Venice Restaurant on East Wrightstown Road in May.

“It wasn’t an easy decision,” Mary Weger said at the time. “We were open 36 years and a lot of our customers were older, so we were losing one spouse, and people didn’t want to come in without their spouse. It got difficult.”

The owners of Chad’s Steakhouse & Saloon on North Swan Road closed the 22-year-old cowboy steakhouse in late April.

Shaun and Sandi Herrington decided that after 10 years of owning the eatery and working long hours while raising two young kids was enough so they put the building on the market.

El Parador’s owners, the children of the restaurant’s founder John Jacob, said they were simply moving in another direction, downsizing their operation and focusing mostly on catering.

“We will miss them, but what about the ones we still have?” longtime Tucson restaurateur Jonathan Landeen said Tuesday as he drove past the 57-year-old Mama Louisa’s Italian Restaurant on South Craycroft Road.

“Part of the problem I think with so many longtime restaurants like El Parador is that dad had a great vision and did a great job. Then the kids come along and try to run it, but do they do ... it with the same vision and same quality?” said Landeen, who has owned Jonathan’s Cork on East Tanque Verde Road since 1994. (The Cork dates back to at least the 1970s.)

“Most restaurants have managed to stick around because they know Tucson and are not afraid to try new things,” he said.

Restaurants that don’t adapt to changing tastes and trends often become stale, Landeen said. Loyal clients start to fade away and new customers never make it through the door.

Landeen said Tucson also is seeing longtime restaurants vanish because the founders haven’t devised an exit strategy, like a family member taking over when the owners leave. Landeen, 63, said he has no such plan. His son has no desire to leave a photography career to run dad’s restaurant so Landeen will have to look outside the family when he decides to retire.

Octavio Castaños, the son of El Mezon’s owner, Consuelo Medina, was a baby when his mother opened the restaurant. He grew up there and worked as a server off and on since he was a teen. But the 24-year-old, who has a bachelor’s degree in English and is considering graduate school, said it was never his plan to take over the family business.

“I had seen my mom struggle with it for a really long time, and even when it was doing really well, she was away all the time,” Castaños said. “She was a single mother. She was 100 percent devoted to that place, and I never saw her. And that just seemed like a hard life. I love the place, but my mom just barely had time for herself.”

Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at cburch@azstarnet.com or 573-4642.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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