Food & Drink

Casa de Tamales to ‘temporarily pause operations’ at Fulton Mall

Liz Sanchez, right, prepares tamales with an employee in a summer 2016 photo. Sanchez says she plans to “temporarily pause operations” starting Monday, May 1, 2017, at the Fulton Mall location. At issue is the ability to attract people to the unfinished street and hold outdoor events.
Liz Sanchez, right, prepares tamales with an employee in a summer 2016 photo. Sanchez says she plans to “temporarily pause operations” starting Monday, May 1, 2017, at the Fulton Mall location. At issue is the ability to attract people to the unfinished street and hold outdoor events. Fresno Bee file

Casa de Tamales plans to “temporarily pause operations” at its Fulton Mall restaurant starting Monday and lasting possibly until work on the mall is done.

One of downtown and the mall’s most vocal supporters, Casa de Tamales opened in February of last year at 938 Fulton Mall, its owners knowing they would face the challenge of opening in a construction zone. They have heavily marketed the restaurant during construction.

Their Tower District restaurant remains open as normal and it delivers to downtown customers.

The revamped Fulton street had been scheduled to open in May, but now the city is looking at midsummer because of weather delays, said city spokesman Mark Standriff.

We’re still paying rent. We just have to put a pause on operations now.

Jose Aguilar, Casa de Tamales

Casa de Tamales’ owners say they had expected their portion of the project to be finished in January.

Driving Casa de Tamales’ “pause” are issues related to attracting people to the mall before it’s completely finished and the restaurant’s ability to hold events, including an ArtHop event they wanted to host Thursday that would use the outdoor area in front of the restaurant.

The restaurant is not allowed to host events that include doing things outdoors for liability reasons, said Jose Aguilar, Casa de Tamales co-founder and Casa de Tamales founder Liz Sanchez’s husband.

A meeting with the city late Friday may lead to a solution over the next few days that would allow them to host ArtHop each month, Standriff said.

“We want to do everything we can do to help her get through this process over the next couple months,” he said of Sanchez.

But Casa de Tamales won’t be open for the other days of the month.

A Facebook post written by Sanchez on Thursday afternoon blames Stephen Poindexter, the president and CEO of American Paving Company, the company that is ripping out the pedestrian mall and replacing it with a street accessible to cars.

The company does not plan on installing benches or trash cans or complete finishing touches on fountains and artwork until a month or a month and a half before the end of the project.

The Casa de Tamales’ Facebook post says, in part: “So, it appears Mr. Poindexter has no intention of finishing our block until the entire street is near completion because he doesn’t want more people there, something that I as a restaurant owner need for my business.”

It continues: “It’s not very hospitable to leave an unfinished block for the purpose of what I see as discouraging people from being there. It’s very disappointing to see that being allowed to happen around my business.”

Poindexter said that was the plan from the beginning and that he has said so at twice-monthly meetings with business owners.

The company already has dealt with vandalism, broken lights and graffiti, he noted.

“We’re ultimately responsible for all of that until the job is accepted” by the city, he said. “The contract I have with the city is the project doesn’t get accepted until the entire six blocks is complete.”

Casa de Tamales will eventually reopen, Aguilar said, adding he doesn’t consider the change even a temporary closure.

“We’re still active downtown merchants. We’re still paying rent, we just have to put a pause on operations now,” he said. “It just doesn’t make good business sense to try to attract people in if we have a company that’s trying to discourage people from coming in.”

Bethany Clough: 559-441-6431, @BethanyClough

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