El Camino Regresa!
The sign never even came off the building. El Camino has reopened after closing its doors less than two months ago, this time under new ownership. The departure of the Tex-Mex restaurant on the main drag in Bloomingdale was a huge loss to the neighborhood, and many are celebrating its return.
The neighborhood was still feeling the loss of El Camino, which had been open since November 2014. The restaurant was a family-friendly destination for many in the neighborhood. It was the passion of the neighbors that led new owner Marvin Solorzano to want to keep the name.
Solorzano, originally from Mexico, has lived in the District for 20 years, much of that time spent as the general manager of Dupont Italian Kitchen. While he loved his patrons, the job of running someone else’s restaurant wasn’t enough for Solorzano, who always dreamed of opening his own place. As a Brentwood resident, Solorzano would frequently pass El Camino, but his schedule usually didn’t line up with the hours it was open.
“I’ll never forget, I stopped in once and had amazing watermelon gazpacho. I always wanted to go back,” explained Solorzano during the soft opening of the new El Camino. Then, one fateful day, he passed the restaurant and saw that the restaurant was closing. He felt it was a sign.
He attempted to reach out to the owner, but with no success. He reached out to the owners of Sylvan, who connected him with the leasing agent for the property. He expressed interest in opening a restaurant in that space but was curious if the previous owners would allow him the rights to the original El Camino.
“This was such a staple for the neighborhood. I felt I had to try to preserve it,” said Solorzano. It didn’t hurt that the concept was Mexican, and he is Mexican. The previous owners agreed, and Solorzano and his team set out modernizing and revitalizing the El Camino that was.
His first goal in the renovation was giving the place more light. He and a member of his team named Angel, whom he has known since Angel was 14, began the process of stripping away the busy decor and broke down a few walls in the process. The result was a brighter, cleaner, more modern space.
Angel is not the only member of the team that Solorzano has known for years. All of his staff, save the chef, have worked previously for Solorzano and followed him on his journey to open his own place. “I realized that a lot of the time, people who work in restaurants are tired and unhappy. I want to build an environment where people love going to work because it feels like going to work with your family.” He noted that each member of his team that has followed him is currently working for free to get the restaurant open.
His entire concept, outside of the Tex-Mex decor and fare, is family. The soft opening was proof of the strength of his connections with his family, staff, and many of his previous patrons, who were excited to see their old friend and support his new endeavor. The room was packed with kids. During the interview, Solorzano paused to welcome his old customers, telling one that there was a bottle of Bacardi behind the bar just for him.
As a resident of Brentwood, considered a food desert of sorts, Solorzano wanted to bring a food-and family-atmosphere to an area that lacked that type of establishment. With the loss of the original El Camino, Bloomingdale was in need of that “take your kids out to dinner at a reasonable time” place that felt welcoming to people of all ages.
The return of El Camino follows the semi-return, semi-never-left, of Windows Cafe – another entity that has proven its resiliency. So, it appears that the Rhode Island strip of Bloomingdale will look much the same in December 2019 as it did in January 2019, a quite surprising fact considering all that has happened in the interim.
The Caveat to That …
Unfortunately, there is one space that will not look the same as we head toward the end of the year. The owners of Unified Scene Theater announced at the end of July that they are ceasing operations and relocating to Portland, Oregon. The theater has occupied that space since August 2015.
Owners Shawn and Kathy Baird Westfall posted the announcement on their Facebook page. “We opened four years ago this month. A journey that found us building a brick-and-mortar space for performers to learn and perform improv, and audiences a place to discover it.” The announcement thanked “every one of you: students, performers, theater-goers, the community of friends and family who were patient with us as we pursued this; we’re grateful to our neighborhood (we love you, Bloomingdale!), our city, and, finally, the talented improv scene here in DC that supported us. Thank you, all of you.”
Taylor Barden Golden is a real estate agent with the Stokes Group at McEnearney Associates Inc. A former Hill staffer, Taylor lives in Brentwood with her husband, two dogs and a cat. She’s always on the lookout for new places to explore and ways to spend time outside. Get in touch: email@example.com; @rtaylorb.