Café Soleil, the popular and quirky eatery in downtown Sacramento’s Cesar Chavez Plaza, is closing.
Yesenia Ix, whose parents began operating the small cafe more than two decades ago, said the business could shut down as early as Friday and will certainly close by the end of this month. She said business has been hurt in recent years by an increase in events and renovation projects at Cesar Chavez Plaza.
“It’s been a battle,” Ix said Wednesday, sitting at a small table inside the cafe. “I feel like it’s time to move on.”
Jorge and Nicole Ix moved to Sacramento from San Francisco to open Café Soleil in 1993. The friendly little restaurant quickly became popular with downtown workers, who dined on the cafe’s scones, French dip sandwiches and fish tacos on park benches and at tables under Cesar Chavez Plaza’s trees.
Nicole Ix died last year after a 14-month battle with cancer. Her diagnosis had led to an outpouring of support by the shop’s loyal customers, who raised money to help the family.
Yesenia Ix said changes to Cesar Chavez Plaza have made it difficult for the cafe to remain open.
The city has spent millions of dollars renovating the park in recent years. The work disrupted business at Café Soleil, as fences surrounded much of the park, Ix said.
“People turn away whenever they see a fence,” Ix said.
A weekly farmers market in the park was also expanded and has steadily grown in popularity. Ix said market days were once among the busiest for the cafe, but that an increase in the number of vendors at the market serving meals has hurt her business the past two years.
Michael Ault, executive director of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said “an increase in competition in the park has clearly impacted (the cafe).”
“I think the Ix family over the years has done a very good job of managing and building the business,” Ault said. “Clearly that park has gone through an evolution of hosting a lot more events and a series of modifications to make it more of a destination.”
Ix acknowledged her family owes the city back rent of about $21,000, but said the business has paid its bills on time this year. She also said her family reached agreements to sell the cafe to two different buyers, but that the city of Sacramento rejected both deals. The city is the cafe’s landlord.
Jim Combs, the director of the city’s parks department, said neither of the potential buyers had the financing needed to operate the cafe.
Combs said the city has worked with Café Soleil to help it stay afloat. He said the city slashed the restaurant’s rent twice, eventually cutting the rate from $2,800 a month to $1,400 a month.
“They’re a much-loved family, their food is really great and a lot of people love their place,” Combs said. “That’s why we’ve tried to work with them.”
Call The Bee’s Ryan Lillis, (916) 321-1085. Read his City Beat blog at www.sacbee.com/citybeat.