Downtown Merced cafe to close later this month, owner says. Mayor says city trying to help

A look at the popular Merced restaurant Mi Casa Cafe

The family that has run Mi Casa Cafe on East Childs Avenue says the popular Merced Mexican Food restaurant will be closing October 28, 2018.
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The family that has run Mi Casa Cafe on East Childs Avenue says the popular Merced Mexican Food restaurant will be closing October 28, 2018.

After nearly two decades of breakfasts and lunches, downtown Merced’s Cinema Cafe is less than two weeks from closing, the owner said on Tuesday.

Cinema Cafe on the corner of N and Main streets is inside the Mainzer Theater, which is soon to be refurbished. But, cafe owner Gerardo Olvera said, the eatery isn’t included in the theater’s plans. Its last day is Jan. 21.

“I was hoping with this big project that they’d include me,” the 65-year-old said. “I was disappointed.”

San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre Hotels, which is partnering to refurbish El Capitan Hotel, is also involved in the Mainzer project. The theater will retain its movie theater and feature a performance and events venue, according to the plans. It will also offer a new restaurant and bar.

Olvera said he was told about a year ago that Cinema Cafe was not included in the new project but he’s still displeased that some compromise could not be worked out. He’s hoping to find a new home.

“I would like to stay downtown but I’m still looking,” he said. “My normal customers have been begging.”

Two regulars eating lunch on Tuesday said they were “bummed” to hear the fate of the cafe, where they eat two or three times a week. Francisco Romo, a Turlock resident who works in Merced, said the staff is always ready to go out of their way to accommodate special requests.

The staff even paid for his meal recently on his birthday, Romo said.

The cafe offers friendly staff and friendly faces, Atwater resident Ozzy De Luna said. “It’s really the customer service,” he said. “It’s a family environment. You bring your kids on the weekend.”

Olvera said he bought the restaurant 19 years ago, and it employs seven people. He moved from Los Angeles on his way to Oakhurst but settled in Merced.

“When I heard it was for sale, I said, ‘What the hell, I should buy it,’ “ he said.

He’s worked in the restaurant industry for about 40 years, he said. “I am disappointed that the city didn’t accommodate me. It’s big business coming in,” he said. “I feel sorry for my employees who are going to be out of a job.”

Downtown has seen an influx of investment in recent years, including the UC Merced Downtown Center and the effort to beautify the Hotel Tioga.

Merced Mayor Mike Murphy pushed back against Olvera’s assessment of the situation, saying city employees have worked with the owner to find a new location. He said officials with the Small Business Development Center also worked with the cafe to provide services.

“We’ve done a lot to try to keep them. There’s a place for everyone in downtown, for all businesses downtown,” he said. “I know that we have landlords on Main Street that want to work with Cinema Cafe.”

A real estate agent with knowledge of the cafe’s options was not immediately available for comment.