Nati's has operated on the corner of Bacon and Niagara for 57 years.
This fall, rumors were flying about Nati's Mexican Restaurant closing. Nati's has been a staple for 57 years in the heart of Ocean Beach, on Bacon between Niagara and Newport avenues. A few people took to social media in September and October to ask others if what they had been told was true.
Prime real estate in Ocean Beach, Nati's holdings outlined in purple. (courtesy of Tony Franco)
In early October, a bartender at an O.B. pub posted on Facebook that a woman told her while bartending that "Nati's is being sold to build condos." Her post disappeared later that day. I asked her the next day why she took down her post. She said, "I deleted it because it wasn’t true and people at Nati's didn’t want the rumor to continue."
1852 Bacon Street, San Diego
Rumors have run the gamut: from nothing is going on to Nati's is closing so condos can be built to Nati's is staying and maybe only the parking lot will be sold. City records indicate recent acquisitions on that block. The most fruitful intel was the expansion plans Nati's had last year via a liquor-license application from October 2016. They withdrew it in July 2017.
When I talked to Nati's co-owner Marilyn Thomas last week, I asked what their recent expansion plans were. She said, "We are not expanding." When I asked if there was any truth to the rumors about condos going in where Nati's is now, she said "No." When I asked her why they withdrew their liquor-license application in July, she responded, "This is right in the middle of the lunch hour, I'll have to call you back." I never got to finish my conversation with her.
Most can't help notice this photo of 1970s teen heartthrob Shaun Cassidy in the front display case filled with old Nati's photos and menus. (courtesy: Michele Martinson)
On December 13th, Tony Franco from the Franco Realty Group emailed me a press release saying that Nati's owners Dennis Kerr and Marilyn Thomas were calling it quits after more than 50 years in the restaurant business. Both Kerr and Thomas started out as teenagers working at Nati's at a time when Ocean Beach could be accurately described as a sleepy little beach town.
Kerr was quoted in the press release, saying, "It is our understanding that the business will close for about a month for some much-needed renovation and updating. Thereafter the refreshed Nati’s will reopen with the original staff and serve the consistent, Sinaloan Style Mexican food that has made it a local’s favorite for the past nearly 60 years.”
Franco said he couldn't say anything about the buyer now but did confirm that they are locals. He said, "Nati's approached us and gave us the listing."
I asked if he could share any details about the remodel, but he wasn't able to just yet. I asked if there were any plans to do something else with the large parcel down the road and Franco said that it was unknown at this time. He did say that the adjacent shops on the parcel would be allowed to remain.
I asked him about what Thomas never answered — about their 2016 expansion plans and the liquor-license application. Franco said, "Can't comment."
The expansion plans and liquor-license application were discovered after looking at city documentation and talking to the state liquor-license folks. It seems that Nati's asked the city for a zoning-use certificate in September 2016 after hiring a liquor-license expert to apply for a Type 47 liquor license. Curious, because they already have a Type 47 liquor license and have had it since 1987.
Melissa Ryan, a local agent for the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control said there are only two reasons Nati's would need to get a new zoning-use certificate from the city and apply for a new — but the same — liquor license. One would be if they wanted to expand their premises, especially if residences were nearby. Another reason would be if they had strange conditions on their liquor license.
Their liquor license does note operating restrictions and Ryan confirmed that Nati's did apply because they wanted to expand their premises. The file showed there were two residents who protested. Ryan submitted a records request to see what else could be released.
One of two documents she sent had redacted the reason for withdrawing the application but did indicate it wasn't due to resident protests. I asked Ryan if she could confirm if it was withdrawn due to the property sale or Nati's just changing their mind about the expansion. Ryan said it wasn't for either of these reasons but couldn't tell me more. The letter sent to residents in October did indicate they wanted to serve alcohol until 2:00 a.m., so perhaps that could be an operating restriction since they show they are only open until 9:00 p.m. on Yelp.
One other point of consideration is the historic value of Nati's. I asked Jaye MacAskill from Save our Heritage Organisation about this. She said that, "Personally, I think the building is a great example of mid-20th century commercial modern style. Hopefully, the powers that be at the city's Historical Resources Office would agree with me and consider it eligible under Criterion C Architecture as a good representation of its style. Making an argument for having historical significance as a restaurant is more difficult than for architectural significance, but it is possible, especially when a business has operated under the same ownership, or even just under the same name, for such a long time."
She said that any permit applied for would trigger the city's 45-year historical review process. She wants to be alerted if anyone sees any work going on.
"If the work is not permitted, a code complaint can be filed with the city to ensure the owners go through the historical review process."