Henry Salazar, right stands with his business partner, Bob Bethel, in front of their restaurant, Henry Salazar's Fresh Mex Grill, which they closed Saturday after 23 years in downtown Visalia. Photo contributed
Written by David Castellon
After 23 years of being a staple among downtown Visalia restaurants, Henry Salazar’s Fresh Mex Grill served its last meal Saturday night.
Owner and business’ namesake Henry Salazar said the stylish Mexican restaurant didn’t go out of business due to lack of customers but rather because of rising rent.
He said his lease was coming up for renewal for the building at 123 W. Main St. — “It’s the easiest address to remember” — but the owner wanted to double the rent under the next lease agreement.
Salazar said that was too much, so he decided to close down his business. He added that he informed his staff and customers about a month ago of his plans, and as word spread, business picked up as regular and old customers came in for their last meals there.
“A lot of people are heartbroken, but they are going to follow us, but it’s all good,” said Salazar, explaining that he and business partner Bob Bethel chose not to open another Henry Salazar’s, but rather focus more on their other restaurant, Salazar’s Grill and Bar, which they have run for the past 15 years in the Kingsburg Pavilion shopping center.
Salazar said he expects business there to elevate considerably if T-Mobile and Sprint get government approval to merge, after which the cellular phone giants plan to launch a call center employing about 1,000 people. While officials haven’t revealed a possible site for the center, Salazar heard it could be in the vacated Kmart store at the shopping center.
“It will definitely be good for us.”
Salazar is among the four children of Salvador Salazar, the Valley restaurateur who started Sal’s Mexican Restaurant in 1942 in Selma, and it has expanded to two more restaurants in Fresno and Madera.
Salazar said he has a partial stake in those restaurants, which his sister, Lorraine Salazar and one of his brothers, Karl Salazar, co-own and operate. His other brother, Bobby Salazar, has his own Mexican restaurant chain that bears his name.
As for what will happen to the spot Henry Salazar’s has occupied for more than two decades, Henry Salazar said another restaurant is coming there, as he has sold his kitchen appliances, plates, silverware, pots, pans, tables, chairs and most of the rest of his restaurant’s contents to the new tenant.
“We sold them everything,” said Salazar, who added that he didn’t know what type of restaurant is planned next for the spot.
Steve Nelsen, vice mayor for Visalia and CEO and executive director of Downtown Visalia, an alliance of downtown business operators and property owners, said he has heard another Mexican restaurant is planned for the spot, but he didn’t know its name.