Gonza Tacos Y Tequila, the popular local Mexican-Colombian chain, announced on Tuesday that it will permanently close its Durham location in the West Village.
The fault lies with its landlord, the restaurant says.
“We are very thankful to the Durham community for their love and support over the past five years,” co-owner Gonza Salamanca said in a press release. “To say we were disappointed at the lack of flexibility and proposed rent increase by the landlord would be an understatement.”
The restaurant says its lease was up for renewal at the end of May, but it couldn’t commit to the new terms—a five-year lease and an increase from $21 to $25 per square foot—during an uncertain time.
The West Village complex is managed by an Ohio-based management company called the Connor Group.
According to Amanda Brown, a spokesperson for the Connor Group, the company repeatedly tried to work out a deal with Gonza.
“We are also disappointed a renewal agreement was not reached,” Brown told the INDY in a statement. “We offered Gonza a more than fair renewal agreement that included rent abatement and an interest-free loan. At the end of the day, these business owners were not willing to work with us on solutions.”
Salamanca moved from Colombia to Raleigh in 2006 and opened the first Gonza with his cousin in Raleigh in 2011. They’ve since opened locations in Cary, Wake Forest, and downtown Raleigh. The Durham West Village outpost opened in 2015; there’s also a location inside the Durham Bulls Athletic Park.
Salamanca told the INDY that landlords at other Gonza locations have accommodated them during the pandemic. But a five-year lease paired with a rent increase was too much of a risk, even with the short-term rent suspension that the Connor Group offered (he says that the group offered four months of free rent). He says he asked for a year-long lease, but the Connor Group refused to budge.
Brown says that the property is already being rented at below market value, although she did not say whether the market value had changed during the pandemic.
“I called them one day and I said, ‘I’m a nice guy,’” Salamanca says. “‘I’m just going through a hard time, no need to threaten us with evictions and lawyers. Just give us a break.’ And the offer we made was a decent offer. This place is going to be empty now for, what, 18 months? But these are big guys. They don’t care.”
In the press release, Gonza said if a new location came along with the right terms, it would reopen in Durham.
Correction: An earlier version of this post attributed information about the four months of free rent to the Connor Group. That information came from Gonza Salamanca.
Contact deputy arts and culture editor Sarah Edwards at email@example.com.
DEAR READERS, WE NEED YOUR HELP NOW MORE THAN EVER. Support independent local journalism by joining the INDY Press Club today. Your contributions will keep our fearless watchdog reporting and essential arts and culture coverage viable in the Triangle, coronavirus be damned.