I recently had the chance to visit with former Windsor Square neighbor, Ron Salisbury. Once denizens on Lucerne Blvd. and participants in Wilshire Baseball, he, Darlene and their young son moved down to Newport Beach a number of years ago. Nevertheless, a longtime business relationship has Ron (and son Brendon, now 28) coming back to the Larchmont Chronicle’s neighborhoods often.
That’s because it was the Salisburys’ family that opened the first El Cholo Café in 1923 (as Sonora Café) at the corner of what was then Santa Barbara and Moneta Avenues (now Martin Luther King Blvd. and Broadway) near what is now the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Those pioneer restaurateurs were Ron’s grandparents, Alejandro and Rosa Borquez.
In 1927, Ron’s mom and dad, Aurelia Borquez Salisbury and George Salisbury, opened their own El Cholo Café on Western Ave. As Ron wrote recently, “I am happy to report it is still there and thriving quite well.”
That is an understatement. El Cholo on Western Ave. very much remains the wonderful place that thousands of local families remember as part of their lives. This reporter has been eating there regularly since age three.
Still in the family
Ron Salisbury recently wrote that he was one of many readers of the Richard R. Frank (Lawry’s Restaurants CEO) Spring 2016 newsletter story acknowledging, in Ron’s words, “the small fraternity of restaurants, some still owned by the same family, over 80 years old, that have meant so much to our city’s history.”
Salisbury continued: “Personally, at 83 years old and never having known life without El Cholo (as well as the others mentioned in the Lawry’s letter), it has been an incredible ride for me as well as my family. The number of people with fascinating lives that I have met, known and, with some, become great friends, has been very rewarding.”
Change at El Cholo?
And in that same recent missive, Ron told an interesting story that reflects changes in our world!
In mid-April, some work was done at El Cholo Café on Western Ave. Ron wrote: “The original high-backed wooden booths that for all this time have been part of our storied history had to undergo their almost-first-ever remodeling.
“The booths are still made out of a fine oak wood but were moved for the first time ever to be stretched out an additional foot to accommodate the change in body sizes since 93 years ago.”
Ron subsequently explained that this actually was the third time that some modifications have been made to the classic wooden booths on Western Ave.
The five other El Cholo locations—Downtown, La Habra, Santa Monica, Corona del Mar, and Anaheim Hills—also have wooden booths. In recent years, the woodworking has come from a fifty-year-old company in Colton, now owned by Otmar Luft. Says craftsman Luft, “the oak booths we have made for the newer locations are in just the same style as the originals on Western Ave.”
The first time there was a modification to the booths on Western Ave. was years ago, when entrance into the booths was made easier by narrowing the wooden ends of the booths by removing the vertical spindles along the inside edges of the booth ends. The removed spindles were cut longitudinally, and the half-spindles were glued onto the booth ends and were painted in bright colors. The second modification was to further narrow the booth ends so the ends no longer extend at all beyond the upholstered backs added for color and comfort.
All of the newer El Cholo restaurants have the wider booths, six feet across. Only the original had—until the middle of last month—the five-foot width that sufficed for Angeleno diners of the 1920s and, probably, up until the last decade. (Stay tuned, possibly, for more on this “girth” subject in the Chronicle’s “Heath, Fitness and Beauty” special edition next January!)
This news about “change at El Cholo” required follow-up and a visit to inspect. When the inspection was made in April, it was still too early for green corn tamales (May through October). But fans should know that the booth width change is not very noticeable, but some of us certainly found the dining more comfortable as a result. What had not changed, and what remains very good, are the Margaritas and Combinacione No. 1 . . . and virtually everything else on the menu.