Compadres Bar and Grill in Palo Alto abruptly closed late Monday afternoon, sending stunned staff members home — some still wearing their Compadres shirts — as General Manager Scott Enos apologized to arriving customers in the rear parking lot.
Other would-be customers tried the locked front door, which offered no sign or explanation for the closure.
"I'm supposed to meet someone here for a birthday party," one perplexed woman said.
The Palo Alto restaurant, at 3877 El Camino Real, had been in business for 23 years and had been rated best Mexican restaurant in reader polls by both the Palo Alto Weekly and Palo Alto Daily News — it earlier had received the same rating by the former Peninsula Times Tribune readers.
"It's a shock. I still can't believe it," Enos, who was caught off guard by the surprise closing, told the Weekly.
"This is not a good time to talk. I'm not prepared," said Enos, whose family owns the five-restaurant chain, founded in 1983 and based in Oakland. Three other Compadres restaurants, also suddenly shut down, are in Oakland, Calif., and in Honolulu and Lahaina in Hawaii. A call to the Oakland restaurant confirmed its closure.
The Compadres restaurant in Napa is no longer part of the chain and is still open, according to reports -- even though it is still listed on the Compadres' website.
Compadres also is closing its taqueria stands at the Stanford Stadium, AT&T Park, Candlestick Park and Memorial Stadium in Berkeley, according to a man who answered the phone at Compadres' Palo Alto restaurant about 5 p.m. Monday.
"I'm sorry we can't serve you dinner," Enos told arrivals, offering no explanation for the closure.
"I heard it was a bank thing," one employee said as she put personal items in her van and prepared to leave.
The restaurant, which opened in January 1985 at the site of the former Iron Works restaurant and bar, quickly became an institution in Palo Alto. .
While other restaurants came and went, Compadres seemed solid. It won numerous awards throughout the years both in California and Hawaii, including receiving the Chamber of Commerce's annual Tall Tree Award for the Most Outstanding Business for its extensive support of community-based programs and organizations.
It once was rated in the Top 500 Mexican restaurants by Restaurant Hospitality Magazine.
The chain's website, http://www.compadresrestaurants.com , was still online Monday evening but offered no explanation for the abrupt closures. It still offered a free lunch coupon with purchase of a regular lunch.
The site conveyed a now-ironic, poignantly upbeat message:
"Our idea was to 'bridge the gap' between the mom & pop type operation and the think tank, cookie cutter approach of the chains.
"We think that we have accomplished this — providing our guests with high quality, consistently prepared food and beverages, served in a comfortable, clean and upscale facility featuring handcrafted artifacts rather than border town funk. …
"The traditions of the Southwest and the Northern Mexico state of Jalisco provide the framework of our food brand, 'Western Cooking with a Mexican Accent.'"