On Monday August 12th, media outlets, musicians and diners gathered to wish El Salvador Restaurant a fond farewell before the eatery closes its doors for good on August 19th.
Arturo Castro, co-owner of the eatery, helped his sister-in-law open the restaurant nearly 20 years ago. He has shared ownership of the restaurant with his wife, Angelica Martinez, for the last 10 years. Their children help out in the restaurant as they’re able. All the recipes in the restaurant have been passed down through generations.
Reno Knows How to Throw a Party
Diners nearly trailed out the restaurant’s door at approximately 6:30 p.m. on Monday evening. Tables were scarce as patrons discussed the live music ahead, the restaurant’s dishes and the closure itself.
The restaurant staff handled the inundation of patrons with patience and positive attitudes.
Castro wore a t-shirt and ball cap as he assisted his staff with waiting tables and running food. It quickly became clear that unearthing additional details about the closure would be difficult until all of the festivities wrapped up.
The kitchen worked tirelessly to send out pupusas, pastelitos, empanadas and much more. It seemed as though just about about every item on the menu could be seen being enjoyed by patrons of all demographics.
Three bands regaled the restaurant with music beginning at 7:30 p.m. The acts included Horse Champ, PRY and People with Bodies. Every band paid respect to the restaurant and delivered enthusiastic performances.
Clarification on the Cause of the Closure
Although Castro was not available for comment until after the party, he shed light on many of the details the community has been seeking.
The first topic discussed was the cause of the closure.
Castro confirmed that his restaurant’s closure is due to the building owner raising the rent to market value, which is double what Castro is currently paying. He said rent increases are expected and had the increase been even as much as $1,000, he and his staff could have absorbed the increase.
The conclusion I drew from the figures that Castro relayed is that the rent increase exceeded $1,000 by a substantial margin. I chose not to ask about the original rent and what it became after the increase.
I asked who the building owner is. Castro said a woman purchased the building about a year and a half ago. The RGJ reported that the purchase cost was “nearly $2.8 million.”
I asked Castro if he could put me in touch with the building owner, so I could give her an opportunity to submit a statement about the closure. Castro advised that his daughter, Cindy Castro, has been handling relations with the building owner.
Why? Arturo cited a perceived tension between himself and the building owner surrounding the nature of his Salvadoran accent. Because of this perceived — but unsubstantiated — tension, he asked his 26-year-old daughter to be the point person during lease negotiations.
I requested the building owner’s contact information from Cindy Castro, but I did not receive a response by the time of this article’s publication. If I can secure a statement from the building owner, I will certainly do so.
Will El Salvador Restaurant Remain Closed Indefinitely?
The next topic Arturo and I discussed was the permanence of the closure. As previously reported, the restaurant published a statement on July 17th, 2019 on Facebook that advised, “Yes, sadly the rumors are true on the 19th of August will be the last time we will have our doors open. And no we will not be available in a new location.”
I asked Arturo to confirm or deny that they do not plan to reopen. He was surprised at my question, and he said they have every intention to reopen in a new space. He advised that the Facebook statement made on behalf of his restaurant was made prematurely amidst a robust struggle to find an acceptable new building.
Arturo will be previewing a possible new space for his restaurant as early as next week.
Arturo Castro Surmounted More than Most to Achieve His Dream
In a candid moment, Arturo shared that he was born in a small village in El Salvador called La Reina. He explored many countries for work and habitation on his journey through life. A long series of serendipitous events led him to Reno.
When he arrived stateside 30 years ago, he was unable to speak English, but his unstoppable work ethic and his unwavering respect for his fellow human afforded him the exact opportunities he needed.
When faced with daunting odds, homelessness, and savage racism, Arturo happened upon a childhood friend from La Reina right here in Sparks. Arturo was so happy just to speak with someone who knew his native dialect of Spanish.
His friend welcomed him into her car, but he resisted entering. In a vulnerable moment during our interview, he shared that when his friend invited him into her car, he hadn’t bathed in about a week and he didn’t want to ruin her car. She assured him that funky or not, she wished to help him and persuaded him to enter her car.
Arturo’s friend allowed him to live with her and her boyfriend for months as Arturo secured employment and a foundation on which to stand. Arturo vacated his friend’s apartment as soon as he was able. Her generosity left a major impact on him, and he vowed to carry that generosity forward with him wherever he went.
What Does the Closure Mean for the Community?
Arturo devoutly believes in granting respect and kindness to everyone he meets, and as such, when local musicians approached him to play in his restaurant, he welcomed them.
The local noise-pop band, People with Bodies, first played at the restaurant about a year and a half ago. The farewell party marked the band’s third appearance in the restaurant. The band was the driving force behind the party’s three musical acts.
One of the band members of People with Bodies, Fil Corbitt, kindly granted me some of his time to discuss his relationship with the restaurant. In addition to playing many instruments, Corbitt also podcasts, writes and produces. He is published in notable institutions such as Rolling Stone, NPR and USA Today.
Corbitt had the following to say about the restaurant’s welcoming nature.
“I would say every band that’s played here has been a DIY band, which is really cool. It speaks to the role this place plays in the community. You don’t have to be a professional band. You don’t have to be a big deal or something to play here. It’s just a family-owned restaurant that’s letting do-it-yourself bands play in a space.”
I asked Corbitt if he had any thoughts about the cause of the closure.
“I don’t know the entire story. I know that they’re being pushed out, basically, and that the new owner just couldn’t come to an agreement with them. I think maybe not specifically speaking, but in a larger cultural context, it is such a shame to see staples like this, really important gathering places, community places, be pushed out as the neighborhood gentrifies. It’s really sad to see one of my favorite places go in that wave.”
Next, we discussed the ethics behind the building owner bringing her tenant’s rent to market value.
“I don’t know if I can say what the owner should or shouldn’t do. I do think that what has made Midtown special and what makes Reno special is the fact that it is a tight-knit community with family-owned businesses with people here that watch out for each other and care for each other.
When a longstanding restaurant is forced to move, I feel like that’s at least somewhat unethical. Whether or not that person [the building owner] knows the implications of that decision, I’m not sure. But yeah, I think that there’s a tragedy in losing good things — things that make the place good in the first place. Because this has been here for 20 years, much longer than Midtown has.
And just has it’s kind of grown around it, it’s not like they [El Salvador Restaurant] don’t belong here. [Midtown has] grown around it, and then it’s the money that has made it impossible for them to stay. It’s not that they don’t fit here anymore, because they absolutely do.”
We concluded our discussion by talking about the future of the building space and if the building owner could mitigate damage to the community by allowing another local restaurant to rent the space.
“I’m sure whoever moves in will be local to some degree. I think it’s not just the fact that [El Salvador Restaurant] is local that is important, though. It’s the fact that they have built a community here.
They built a place where families and DIY bands and all types of different people can show up here and hang out together and eat really good food together and drink together.
It’s not just that they’re local, it’s that they’ve created something really special here. So whatever goes in, I would hope that they’re really nice people, but I think we’re losing something pretty special.”
Opportunity for a New Start
As previously mentioned, restaurant owner Arturo Castro is actively seeking a new space for the restaurant, but the search has been difficult.
Although he is entertaining locations all around the area, he welcomes any building owners, realtors or brokers to submit available spaces for consideration.
Interested parties may contact Castro at 775-954-8883.
Kyle Young is a local freelance writer. He offers content writing, blog posts, copywriting, and editing services. His current writing foci are food, cooking, and the oddities native to Reno, Sparks, and Tahoe. He graduated from the University of Nevada, Reno with a bachelor’s degree in English writing. He gained some food chops while working as a dishwasher, line-cook, and food-truck operator. He learned quality control, imports/exports, and logistics at a local spice and seasoning manufacturer. When not hustling as a writer, he plays Scrabble, cooks, wrangles three pups, and attends live music/comedy with his wife.