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Tijuana Garage Owner Responds to Closure Backlash in a Bizarre Statement

Blame abounds in weirdly detailed explanation as to why he closed the Little Five Points Tex-Mex restaurant after 15 years

Google/Tijuana Garage
Beth McKibben is the editor and staff reporter for Eater Atlanta and has been covering food and cocktails locally and regionally for over 12 years.

The backlash from the sudden shuttering of and alleged holiday staff party firings at Little Five Points Mexican restaurant Tijuana Garage last week prompted owner Josh Sagarin to respond personally to the rumors circulating on social media. It seems a bizarre and lengthy explanation detailing why Sagarin closed the restaurant and how his employees were informed they were losing their jobs right before Christmas was sent to various Atlanta food news outlets, including Eater Atlanta.

To recap, Tijuana Garage closed on Moreland Avenue after 15 years this past Friday. Employees took to social media claiming they were fired during the restaurant’s holiday staff party. The restaurant claims employees were told during the regular monthly staff meeting.

In his statement, Sagarin says he closed the restaurant after a “protracted attempt to save the business” by he and his managers, makes it clear the building is not being demolished, blames the development along the Beltline, Krog Street Market, Ponce City Market, and “newer, shinier and honestly, excellent restaurants in the area” for the drop in sales at Tijuana Garage and for it feeling “dated” serving “basic Tex-Mex.”

He goes on to say the restaurant’s decline ramped up around 2016 when “the rapidly rising cost of in-town living and the national crackdown on immigration gutted” his “employee pool.” Sagarin explains that “hiring experienced and motivated kitchen staff, servers, and bartenders became far more difficult.” Even Atlanta’s weather wasn’t spared blame in the statement. The only party seemingly exempt from responsibility in the explanation is Sagarin.

There was apparently a last ditch effort to save the restaurant and employees’ jobs right before Thanksgiving in the form of a “manager led buyout.” It fell through at the last minute.

Sagarin attempts to quash the holiday party firing rumors saying they were done during the monthly employee meeting, which is “traditionally festive and includes a “white elephant gift exchange” in December. He admits it wasn’t an ideal scenario but, the alternative was “letting the employees know by email or a note on a locked door.” He reiterates most of his employees were placed in positions at his other restaurant, Front Page News, next door and at neighboring restaurants. People not placed were apparently provided job leads.

Read Sagarin’s full statement below:

I want to fill in blanks and dispel rumors about the closing of Tijuana Garage. Tijuana Garage finally closed after a protracted attempt to save the business.

All of the private events that were planned for Tijuana Garage including the Atlanta Beer Festivals, “ New Beer’s Eve” event on Dec 31, 2018 will go on as scheduled.

Despite baseless rumors, there are no plans to demolish any of the buildings, or to build condos on site. 351 group, LLC, the landlord, has listed the restaurant space for lease with the Shumacher Group. There is already strong tenant interest in opening a new restaurant in the Tijuana Garage space, with a goal of opening by Mid-summer 2019.

Note: a search on the Georgia Secretary of State website indicates 351 group, LLC is registered to Sagarin.

Back in 2003, when we opened Tijuana Garage, we wanted to build a place we could walk to and have a drink the patio with our friends and our kids ---that’s why we did it. I always said when it stopped being fun it was time to let someone else have the space. After fifteen years, of good food, great drinks and parties on the patio that time has arrived. That time really arrived six months ago, but the managers and I really tried to stave off the inevitable for too long.

As a neighborhood staple Tijuana Garage served simple basic, old school Tex-Mex and Tacos in a family friendly atmosphere for over a decade. By 2016, with the development along the Belt Line, the opening of Krog Street, and Ponce City Markets, and the addition of so many newer, shinier and honestly, excellent restaurants in the area, Tijuana Garage began to feel dated. Basic Tex-Mex was no longer the draw it had been ten years earlier. Tijuana Garage was never chef-driven, it was always a neighborhood pub with good food, as time passed, our guests were looking for new and different culinary experiences. Month by month, a slow but steady loss in business had begun, especially in our core neighborhood and family business.

Beginning at about the same time, the rapidly rising cost of in-town living and the national the crackdown on immigration gutted our employee pool. Hiring experienced and motivated kitchen staff, servers, and bartenders became far more difficult, a trend that continues today. Throughout 2015 and 2016 we tried various promotions, music, trivia nights and menus changes. Nothing stopped the decline in sales. I tried recruiting staff from various websites, schools, even running ads OTP, the talent pool continued to dry up. Juggling increased competition, staffing and management challenges was draining, in late 2017, I decided to make one final shot at reviving Tijuana Garage in 2018.

My staff and I had invested a lot of sweat, time, and hard work into rebuilding sales and retaining loyal fans. We owed it to our customers, and I owed it to the people working for the company both front and back of house. Sales in 2018 started off strong, but as a pleasant spring turned in to a rain drenched summer, killing our patio business, sales resumed their steady decline.

By late August of 2018, the writing was on the wall. We planned to close Tijuana Garage following our last hurrah, The Little Five Points Halloween Festival and Parade in October.

Just days before the festival, a new possibility arose, a long-term employee brought forth the idea of a manager led buy-out and take over Tijuana Garage. The manager and his contacts had access to “diamond in the rough” investor funds, and wanted to put together a plan to purchase the restaurant. Letting me to exit the business with no loss of jobs seemed worth hanging on for a few more weeks. We prepared documents to execute a sale to the new operators, only to have the group vote to not move forward just after Thanksgiving.

After Thanksgiving the restaurant and I were totally tapped out. We had run through all of the restaurant’s funds, and an additional $100,000 of personal funds, by the end of the month wouldn’t be able to make payroll. On top of payroll, food, beer, rent, utilities and over $10,000 in licenses and permits would be due by January first. It was insurmountable, We made the decision to finally close Tijuana Garage the first week of December.

A review of our calendar showed we had already booked a number of large holiday events for December 18-21. Out of loyalty to our guests who booked the events, which would be difficult to relocate on short notice, and with the consensus being our tipped employees could most certainly use the money they would make from the holiday events, we pushed the final closing date to Friday, December 21st, 2018.

At the December monthly employee meeting, we announced Tijuana Garage would not reopen after our Christmas break. The December meeting is traditionally festive and includes a “white elephant gift exchange.” It wasn’t an ideal time to break the news to the staff, but the alternative would have been letting the employees know by email or a note on a locked door. By letting everyone know in person, we were able to find positions for most of our employees at neighboring and affiliated restaurants, and provided leads to other restaurants currently hiring in the area for those we couldn’t place.

Tijuana Garage will reopen for one final event, the previously scheduled Atlanta Beer Festival, “New Beers Eve” party, on Dec 31st. After 15 years, and an incredibly stressful 2018, when I the lock doors to Tijuana Garage for the last time on December 31, it will be bittersweet. While I am moving on, Tijuana Garage has a great location, in a great neighborhood. I am confident the landlord will find a great new restaurant, with a new operator, with the confidence and optimism I had back in 2003. The Tijuana Garage space will be filled with laughter, great food and happy guests in no time.

Again, I just want to thank all of our great patrons and employees over the last 15 years. It has been a privilege.

Thanks for the memories,

Josh Sagarin

No word as to the restaurant replacing Tijuana Garage or if the L5P Front Page News faces a similar fate. Sagarin closed the midtown Front Page News on Crescent Avenue in 2017, now home to Publico Kitchen and Tap.

351 Moreland Avenue NE, Atlanta.

Krog Street Market

99 Krog Street Northeast, , GA 30307 Visit Website

Ponce City Market

675 North Avenue Northeast, , GA 30308 (404) 900-7900 Visit Website