ShopTalk | September 26, 2008 | Palo Alto Weekly | Palo Alto Online |

Palo Alto Weekly

News - September 26, 2008


by Daryl Savage

COMPADRES CLOSING STUNS WORKERS ... 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's a shock. I still can't believe it," said Enos, who was caught off guard by the surprise closing. "This is not a good time to talk. I'm not prepared," he said. Enos' family owns the four-restaurant chain, founded in 1983 and based in Oakland. The other three restaurants, all initially reported to have been suddenly shut down, are in Oakland, Honolulu and Lahaina in Hawaii. But there were reports that the Honolulu restaurant is still open. There is another Compadres Restaurant in Napa, which is open and is not part of the restaurant chain. The Palo Alto Compadres opened in January 1985 at the site of the former Iron Works restaurant and bar and quickly became an institution in town. While other restaurants came and went, Compadres seemed solid. It was a recipient of the community's prestigious Tall Tree Award for its support of community organizations and events. No word yet on the cause of the sudden demise of the small chain.

ELEPHANT PHARM PACKS TRUNK, LEAVES TOWN ... Blame "tough economic times" for the surprise departure of Elephant Pharm in Los Altos. "We are so grateful to everyone who has supported us and we will miss our loyal customers, teachers, practitioners and staff," said Kathi Lentzsch, CEO of Elephant Pharm. The drug store was to close Thursday, Sept. 25, after discounting its remaining items by 75 percent. Expectations were high when Elephant Pharm opened less than two years ago. The Los Altos location at 4470 El Camino was the largest of Elephant Pharm's four Bay Area stores, at 14,000 square feet. In addition to stocking traditional pharmacy items, Elephant Pharm offered hundreds of classes, from yoga to holistic healing for pets. Free consultations from naturopathic and ayurvedic doctors were also available. The store's other three locations in Berkeley, San Rafael and Walnut Creek, remain open.

INTERNET WINS IN 'PAPER CHASE' ... ... Sparky, a 9-year-old apricot-colored miniature poodle, still happily greets customers at the door of Paper Chase, a Menlo Park stationery store. But Isabelle Leon, owner of both Sparky and Paper Chase, isn't as cheerful. Her small shop at 861 Santa Cruz Ave. will close at the end of October after 28 years in business. "The Internet did me in," Leon said. She began the business with her sister, Mirian Kotin, who died several years ago. "There's a huge emotional component here," Leon said. "This store has been my home for almost 30 years. When my customers ask me why I'm closing, I tell them, 'I'm leaving because I have to, not because I want to.'" Paper Chase has been a labor of love for Leon. Pointing to a large display of greeting cards on the wall, she said, "See those cards? I personally chose every single one." Leon thinks the time has come to reinvent herself. "Maybe I'll do something creative, or maybe I'll volunteer, but I'm done with the business," she said. It was a gradual realization for Leon that she would have to close Paper Chase. "Business started to decline about five years ago. And it never came back," she said. Leon plans to sell almost all the remaining merchandise at a discount before the store closes next month. But a few pieces will not be for sale. "There are some things I just can't part with," she said. One of those items is a large Mexican horse on wheels, made of paper mache. Leon said, "I had that ever since I opened the store in 1980. It's coming home with me."

RED UMBRELLA MARKS THE SPOT ... A big red umbrella on Charleston Road marks the spot for Fred Courter's lunchtime business. A handful of regulars sit on folding chairs that Courter takes out of his pickup truck everyday and places on a small patch just off the sidewalk in front of the parking lot of Orchard Supply Hardware, facing the street at the Palo Alto/Mountain View border. As cars and trucks speed by on Charleston Road, heading for Highway 101, Courter comments, "The drivers think this is a freeway." A surprisingly cozy and friendly atmosphere has developed in this noisy setting. Everyone is on a first-name basis. The conversation is lively as the colorful, mostly male crowd eats hot dogs and gulps down drinks. Fred Loveland of Mountain View has been coming to the hot dog stand for years. "I'm here at least three times a week. It's like Cheers," he said, referring to the popular television show "And we have rules," he said. "We can talk about cars, we can talk about motorcycles, we can even solve a lot of the world's problems. But no religion and no politics," Loveland said. Courter estimates he sells between 48 and 72 hot dogs a day. "Except on Mondays. That's pulled-pork-sandwiches day and they come from all over the place to eat them," Courter said. He calls Monday his "nine chair day," meaning that all nine chairs from his pickup are occupied. "We also get a lot of bikers on Mondays. Cops too. Last week we had 12 cops here. They come in their patrol cars and on motorcycles. It gets real busy," he said. Despite several nearby eating spots, such as Taco Bell, Chipotle, the food court at Costco, and the eventual opening of Kentucky Fried Chicken and Long John Silvers, Courter is not worried about competition. "I sell a quality product here. My dogs are the best. Nothing better than hanging out here and having a dog," he said.

Heard a rumor about your favorite store or business moving out, or in, down the block or across town? Daryl Savage will check it out. She can be e-mailed at