Jorge Ix, the restaurateur who lost a struggle to keep Cafe Soleil open in downtown Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Park, has signed a lease to open a new restaurant at the former home of Merlino’s Freeze just southwest of the UC Davis Medical Center campus on Stockton Boulevard.
“They offered me a good deal,” Ix said. “I think a Cafe Soleil will be nice there. I don’t really want to call it Cafe Soleil because I’m not going to have the same food. I’m going to have Mexican and American food. ... It’s almost nine months since we closed in the park. We need to come back.”
Ix said his restaurant struggled at Cesar Chavez Park as he competed with a growing number of temporary vendors allowed to set up shop during events at the park. Even before that, he said, construction projects at the park had reduced his traffic.
Ix said he hopes to open his new restaurant soon at 2784 Stockton Blvd., but he’s just starting to do renovations and get the proper licensing. He has been cooking and selling his food out of the Flame Club, 2130 16th St., on Friday nights and on the weekends.
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“I cook breakfast and lunch, and the veterans would come in and tell me, ‘You know, you need to open again, and we’ve got a great place for you,’ ” he said.
As it turned out, they were talking about the Merlino’s stand, which VFW Post 67 owns. Ix went by the site, and he met with the posts’ commander, Chris Anderson.
“I knew I could work with him,” Ix said. “He was nice, and it felt good because the people really wanted me there.”
Ix said friends have suggested that he call his new restaurant Nicole’s Place after his late wife. She lost a long battle with colon cancer in February 2013. Ix said he thought about the idea, but he didn’t know if he could take it if he constantly had to answer the question, “Who’s Nicole?”
“We still have all the emotions. It’s hard without Nicole, but we’ve got to keep going,” Ix said. “My daughter, Yesenia, is 28 now. My nephew Isaak is 20. My son Niall is 23. … They helped me a lot after Nicole passed away, but for me, they need to live their lives. They can’t be with me all the time.”
His children don’t like it, though, because family life is changing, Ix said.
“We don’t see each other as much,” he said. “We come home. Everybody makes their own sandwich or their own salad or whatever, and they take off. There’s no big pot of soup cooking.”
Ix said he knows that regulars who visit the new place will miss his wife’s sense of humor: “She used to take care of all the people and talk with them. I’m not the talker, but I create good food. Hopefully people will come and find out what it’s all about.”
Ix said he plans to incorporate “Soleil” into the new name somehow because, after 22 years of operating at Cesar Chavez Park, Sacramentans will remember the brand. His brother, Manuel Ix, will continue to cook right alongside him, just as he did downtown.
Customers can expect some dishes to have a Caribbean influence, Ix said, because he and his brothers grew up in Mexico’s Yucatán region. He plans to put outdoor tables in front and in back of the restaurant, he said, but if the weather is inclement, VFW officials have told him he can have some use of the hall.