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Landmark Readies for 2nd Course

TIMES STAFF WRITER

El Cholo turns 70 this year, a rare achievement in Los Angeles’ volatile restaurant industry.

Not ready to rest on its laurels, the company that owns the landmark Mexican restaurant is busy launching new ventures this year.

Buoyed by a revival in the restaurant industry, Restaurant Business Inc. President Ron Salisbury plans to open another El Cholo in April at the site of the former Tampico Tillie’s restaurant in Santa Monica.

That month, the La Habra-based company, which also owns three other dining establishments, will also launch a mail-order service. Consumers will be able to use a toll-free line to order margarita mix--the alcohol must be added--or frozen tamales.

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The company will also oversee the operations of a smaller restaurant, to open this fall at Los Angeles International Airport. The Salisbury family will serve as consultants to the licensee of the cantina.

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And, the company is close to an agreement on a site for a quick-service restaurant that will offer Mexican fare at low prices, Salisbury said.

The company got to this point, Salisbury said, “by putting as much money as possible back into our operations. The aim is to have no compromises on quality. In the restaurant business, longevity is success.”

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That success is in contrast to the failure of hundreds of restaurants--legendary establishments such as Chasen’s among them--earlier this decade. Some failed after losing customers to competitors. Others failed because dining declined during the long regional recession.

In contrast, the demand for tables has increased industrywide the last two years. At El Cholo, for example, 1996 was the strongest year since 1992, said Salisbury, whose family founded El Cholo.

The first El Cholo was opened by Alejandro and Rosa Borquez in 1923 near the Coliseum. The legacy was continued by George Salisbury, who married their daughter, Aurelia, in 1926.

The newlyweds opened their own El Cholo on Western Avenue in 1927. The couple--the parents of Ron Salisbury--moved the restaurant across the street to its current site at 1121 S. Western Ave. in 1931.

Ron took control of the business in 1967 and formed the corporation the same year. The restaurant, which began serving margaritas in 1967, has been the world’s largest single user of Cuervo 1800 tequila.

As El Cholo grew, the family opened additional restaurants. The El Cholo Cafe in La Habra is now 35 years old. The Cat & the Custard Cup, a La Habra restaurant known for upscale continental cuisine, opened in 1981. And the Original Sonora Cafe, which serves Southwestern-style food and other cuisine, was founded in Los Angeles in 1986.

The Salisbury operations continue to receive kudos from restaurant analysts and other professional observers.

“Having done this so long, they are consummate operators,” said Richard Martin, a manager at Nation’s Restaurant News, a major trade publication.

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Martin said the family has succeeded partly because many of their employees make their careers at the restaurants and build rapport with customers. He also praised the creative, trendy and sometimes eclectic offerings of the Sonora Cafe.

“My responsibility is to make sure the business is passed on to a fourth and fifth generation,” Ron Salisbury said. “By acquiring the Santa Monica site, we can get the kind of sales growth that will ensure that future.”

George White can be reached by telephone at (213) 237-7314 or by fax at (213) 237-7837.


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