Tapas – No mas!: Lizarran is leaving

Gary Walton is asking the city to continue offering cheaper rent

After a two-year run, Lizarran Tapas Restaurant is turning off its burners and folding up its tablecloths.
Located at 7400 Monterey St. in the Old City Hall building, the two-story eatery that opened in November 2009 will go out with a bang on New Year’s Eve, then shut its doors for good.
In spite of hoping to establish “a quality dining experience in downtown by offering a trend-setting cuisine that most had to travel to San Francisco to find,” Gary Walton, who co-owns Lizarran with his brother, Joe Walton, said costly operating expenses and a gloomy economic outlook are catalysts in the ultimate decision to close up shop.
“My goal wasn’t profit motive,” said Gary over the phone Wednesday. “I would have been happy if we could have just broken even, which we weren’t able to do.”
The Spanish cuisine restaurant will stay open until New Year’s Eve, largely for the benefit of its 22 employees, said Walton, who called his kitchen and floor staff a “great group” that puts their “heart and soul” into the job.
“That’s one of my biggest regrets,” he said of closing. “I feel the worst for the employees.”
Walton said two prospective restaurant entrepreneurs have showed interest in purchasing Lizarran, although he declined to elaborate on any details at this time.
While Joe Walton said he and his brother are open to offers, a restaurant broker suggested listing the business at $300,000.
That asking price will include the liquor license, furniture and equipment, but not franchise rights, Joe said.
Lizarran’s lease with the city would have expired June 30, 2013, with another option for a five-year renewal. After putting roughly $300,000 worth of renovations into the building, Joe said the Walton’s received an improvement credit from the city for $27,000. The credit was spread out over a period of 18 months, lowering the Walton’s montly rent to $2,045. The building’s rent will go back up to $3,400 as of June 30, 2013.
Lizarran is a Spanish-based franchise, with three other locations in Miami, Fl; New York City, Ny; and Fullerton. The restaurant’s concept is centered around the atmosphere of “tapeo” – a savory meal made up of hors d’oeuvres-style dishes, and “txikiteo” – a tradition combining food, wine and song.
“A lot of people have told us, ‘If you opened this up in the Bay Area, you’d be packed,’” said Gary, who feels Lizarran would have been successful in a bigger city such as San Francisco. “It’s time to cut our losses and move forward.”
The news of closure seemingly perpetuates alleged bad ju-ju plaguing the 1905 Baroque- and Mission Revival-style building, where a handful of restaurant ventures met their demise over the course of several years beginning in 2002.
Prior to that, however, Gavilan College had a successful arrangement with the city, whereby small businesses such as The Wild Rose House of Taste restaurant, the Gallery of Flowers floral shop and a tamale business operated in the building together.
Walton, a recognizable fixture in downtown development whose collection of Gilroy properties includes the interim city library building, the neoclassical building that houses Booksmart Kids at Monterey and Fifth streets and the La Aldea apartment complex at Fourth and Eigleberry streets, said he’s received positive feedback from loyal patrons on Lizarran’s fare, ambiance and entertainment.
Be that as it may, it wasn’t enough to offset hourly wages, operating expenses, city fees, county fees, licensing and taxes, which “all add up,” Gary resolved.
Pepper in a recession, less people going out and a monthly utilities bill totaling $2,800 a for the 8,000-square-foot building, Gary called the formula “a perfect storm.”
In 25 months of business, Joe Walton said Lizarran – which has fixed monthly costs of $8,000 – only profited during one of those months.
“And I hesitate to even call it a profit,” he said. “We broke even.”
The end of Lizarran’s run marks the apex in a reevaluation period for Gary.
Once revered as a visionary with dreams of turning the Garlic Capital’s downtown into a locale teeming with arts, entertainment and dining options, Gary – a member of the Downtown Gilroy Specific Plan task force – said he recently sold his home in Gilroy and moved back to Morgan Hill, where he lived from 1979 to 2005.
“I’m just planting the tree,” he told the Dispatch in 2010. “I may or may not enjoy the shade.”
Eric Howard, president of the Gilroy Downtown Business Association, once noted the developer spent “a fortune” on improving downtown Gilroy.
When asked if he is considering relocating to San Luis Obispo, a possibility Gary has casually mentioned in past conversations with the Dispatch, he replied “Joe and I are re-thinking my whole business concept and what I want to do. It’s all kind of up in the air. I think the world is changing and we have to adapt and change as well, and so we’re basically looking at our business model and what I’ve tried to do and invest in.”
Looking back on the whole experience, the first-time restaurant entrepreneur highlighted his newfound respect for folks in the service industry; a lifestyle he underscores as a 7-days-a-week commitment.
“It’s a lot more work than I had thought about or anticipated,” he said. “It’s a very difficult job.”
In spite of Lizarran’s brief lifespan, Gary said it doesn’t discredit goals he and Joe established from the outset.
This includes coaxing more people to patronize the downtown area, respecting the historical integrity of Old City Hall while renovating the 1905 building to its original grandeur, promoting unique, cultural experiences, maintaining a four out of five star rating and hosting dozens of fundraising events for local non-profits.
Had the Waltons opened a smaller venture that required less staff in one of Gary’s own buildings , he speculated, “we may still have kept it open.”
Accompanying an official press release notifying the media of Lizarran’s closure, the brothers also crafted a letter to their friends and loyal customers.
“For us, this is more than the dissolution of a business; this is the disassembly of a sort of family and such things need closure. We look forward to have the final laugh, smile and chat with each of you,” they wrote. “We want to go out with the same grace with which we entered – we do not want to be the place that suddenly went dark with no explanation. Help us, if you will, use these last weeks to accomplish that goal.”
Details: One last Flamenco show featuring singer Jesus Montoya, a two-time Grammy winner from Spain, will take place at 7 p.m. Dec. 11 and cost $15.
On Dec. 14, Lizarran will be closed to the public for an invitation-only party in honor of its most loyal customers. On its final day of operation, Lizarran will host a New Year’s Eve party featuring a Gypsy Flamenco Band that includes local musician Albert Marques.
For more information or to purchase tickets to these events, contact the restaurant at (408) 842-2095.
A personal letter from owner Gary Walton addressed to “our friends and loyal customers.”
The anatomy of goodbye is complicated by emotion. First, there is the news that you are going away; then the explanation and the questions about why; and lastly there is the departure and all its inherent finality.
It is with great sadness that December 31st will be Lizarran Tapas Restaurant’s last day to serve you. We have truly enjoyed the opportunity, but we can no longer sustain the effects of factors we cannot control. There are no fingers to point and there are myriad contributing components to this decision. Just know that the ownership and staff here at Lizarran Tapas Restaurant have done everything we can think of to avoid this outcome. At some point though, no matter how great the highlights, you need to realize that there needs to be a solid foundation of routine business that simply is not coming in our door.
We will be open for another month and have a few events scheduled in December and hope to see many of you so we can thank you in person. For us, this is more than the dissolution of a business; this is the disassembly of a sort of family and such things need closure. We look forward to have the final laugh, smile and chat with each of you. We want to go out with the same grace with which we entered – we do not want to be the place that suddenly went dark with no explanation. Help us, if you will, use these last weeks to accomplish that goal.
In conjunction with our sadness, we’d like to share with you the joy of remembering our successes. In our 2+ years in business we:
1.Brought a World Class Restaurant to Downtown Gilroy (220+ Lizarran locations worldwide).
2.Received numerous accolades generated by our diners attesting to their appreciation of what we do
3.Employed more than 50 Gilroy residents in just over 2 years of business
4.Raised tens of thousands of dollars for local charities and citizens in need through fundraising events and donations
5.Rec’d an award for the remodeling of Old City Hall from the Historical Society
6. Provided a healthier dining option in Gilroy (Mediterranean Diet, Organic vegetables used from the Gilroy Demonstration Garden)
7.Provided a new and unique cultural experience in dining and entertainment highlighting the Spanish culture.
8. And, last but not least, had the pleasure of getting to know so many wonderful people from all over the Bay Area.
As business owners, we enjoy as friends the people we are fortunate enough to work with, and we care deeply about their futures. So with all seriousness – please hire our staff. These are good and capable folks who do a great job in a professional manner. If you have, or know of any, positions available that would be suitable then please let us know so we can share this information with them.
Again, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU. We could not have done it without you and hope you enjoyed Lizarran Tapas Restaurant as much as we enjoyed serving you.
Gary Walton and Joe Walton, Lizarran Tapas Restaurant, 7400 Monterey Street, Gilroy, CA 95020, Phone: (408) 842-2095, Fax: (408) 842-2646

• “Thanks Gary, I’ve enjoyed the Restaurant Food,Atmosphere and People. I’ve especially appreciate you trying to help Gilroy in many Ways.  Definely will miss the staff of good people as you said.  I would like to be part of the New Years Party.”
• “So sad to hear. Gary and Joe have done so much for downtown by bringing Lizarran to Gilroy. Beyond Lizarran, Gary has done SO much for Gilroy. We’ll miss Lizarran.”
• “We have thoroughly enjoyed the times we’ve had at Lizarran!  Gary, Joe, Tara and the rest of their staff are amazing people.  It must have been a difficult decision and I’m sorry.  It’s sad to see a local business close and I wish you all the best.  We will enjoy another round of paella before the end of the year, I wish all gilroy resiidents would. Thank you for opening your doors to us and being one of the places we met new people and celebrated some special milestones!”

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