Chino's is not closing, despite rumors to the contrary which surfaced when the restaurant's bar manager last month took to Facebook to announce "it's our last night." But owners Mari and Walter Lee say they're hoping to relocate to a "less high-traffic location" where club-goers' expectations and high rent costs wouldn't constrain their vision of a Taiwainese-Mexican street food joint serving craft tiki cocktails.
"Being in the Pike-Pine is tough, and we are experiencing what Anu Apte probably had to go through with Rob Roy being in Belltown," Mari Lee says. "We think the neighborhood is probably wrong for Chino's. Of course, the longer we stay here, the more difficult it will be to seamlessly move somewhere else."
The Lees were negotiating a deal that would have allowed them to move when bar manager Evan Martin - late of Ba Bar, where his departure also played out in a messy social media drama - posted on Facebook that he'd be closing down the bar on Apr. 28. "They should be moving to a new location soon with a likely slightly different concept," he wrote. "They sold the current location."
"The whole thing just blindsided us," Lee says. The Lees had told Martin about the potential relocation, but asked him not to say anything because the deal wasn't finalized. "He seemed to agree wholeheartedly that it would be a good move," Lee says. "We assumed he was going with us to the new location."
The Lees didn't initially address Martin's allegations in public because "we hoped it would go away if we ignored it," Lee says.
Martin is equally uninterested in lingering on the incident.
"I had to walk away from their future endeavors based on what was currently going on," he e-mails. "I'm confident there was no wrong doing on my part. I'm keeping my head high and looking forward to moving on to new opportunities."
The leasing deal has since fallen through for reasons that Lee declined to specify, but the owners are still looking for another opportunity to better position their brand. "What we envision is a cuter location where we could keep on making our excellent food and beverages without the spotlight of being in the Pike-Pine," Lee says.
Drawing on their Taiwanese and Mexican heritages, the Lees last December opened Chino's as a culinary tribute to Los Angeles. Although Walter Lee's parents owned restaurants, Mari Lee earlier this year told Voracious that their families discouraged them from entering the food service industry.
"We're a small business with no backers, just a husband-wife team," Lee says now.
Lee says they're planning to stick with the Chino's concept, although they've toyed with the idea of changing the name to better reflect it. "People seem to be confused or possibly put off by the name Chino's," she says. "Not sure why."
They're also adjusting their bar strategy. Asked if Martin's replacement had been hired yet, Lee says, "We do not plan on hiring a bar manager or any other bartender/mixologist of Evan's stature."