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Zapata Mexican Grill Fails To Extend Lease With Les Natali, Will Close Next Month

Photos: Shane Downing/Hoodline
By Shane Downing - Published on September 15, 2016.

As we’ve previously reported, two-decade-old Castro mainstay Zapata Mexican Grill (4150 18th St.) has been running on short-term lease extensions from building owner Les Natali for the last several years. Yesterday, the taqueria's owner, Jorge Perez, told us it will officially close up shop next month.

“We tried again this year to work out a long-term lease with our landlord,” wrote Perez on Zapata’s Facebook page. “So far, [Natali] is still not interested in continuing our tenancy for more than a few extra months ... as a small business, we cannot continue to operate on single-year lease extensions.”

Natali owns a number of vacant buildings in the neighborhood, and as we reported last week, he is allegedly a general manager and chef away from opening a location of Hamburger Mary’s in the former Patio space on Castro Street, which has been vacant since 1999. 

Natali has received neighborhood criticism over his vacant Patio space.

Perez told us in July that he was open to signing a new long-term lease with Natali, and that he was looking for a minimum three-year lease to allow the restaurant to invest in equipment and kitchen improvements, and to provide more stability for its 14 full-time employees. However, the property owner was not interested. 

Natali told us that Zapata was informed three years ago that he had future plans for its building. “The purpose of the extensions was to give Zapata time to find a new location,” he said. “However, apparently Zapata has not found a new location.” According to Natali, Perez rejected another short-term lease extension offer that would have kept Zapata in business until April 30th, 2017.

As a result, Zapata’s lease will expire on October 31st; its final day in business will October 14th. The taqueria has been located in the building on 18th and Collingwood for nearly 23 years.

Perez thanked Zapata’s customers “for supporting us through our fight to stay in the Castro ... and for showing us you wanted us in the neighborhood.” It's unclear whether Zapata will open a new location, but Perez said that he has a “couple of good leads.”

Perez also thanked Castro Merchants’ president Daniel Bergerac for “encouraging our landlord Mr. Natali to listen to and respect the neighborhood as part of his decision-making process.” Bergerac told us that if Natali plans to expand Toad Hall or leave Zapata's space empty, he will face “very strong opposition at City Hall ... and criticism in the neighborhood."

“This is really a shame,” said Bergerac, who said that the Eureka Valley Merchants' Association and the Castro CBD also urged Natali to work with Perez. “I hate to see another empty storefront, especially when there doesn’t seem to be a good reason for it. I hope the space isn't empty as long as The Patio has been—a real blight on the neighborhood."

Follow Zapata’s Facebook page for future updates and adjustments to its hours of operation.

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