La Simpatia, Guadalupe's oldest downtown restaurant, is set to reopen after what feels like "eternity" to owner Rosa Quiroga.
"It seems like 10 years," Quiroga said. "It feels like an eternity, believe me."
The restaurant, at 827 Guadalupe St., has been closed for seismic retrofitting much to the dismay of regular customers, travelers of Highway 1 hoping to stop for their famous chile relleno and foodies throughout the Central Coast who miss its historic diner counter.
"I know there have been a lot of people who have been waiting quite a while for it to open," City Administrator Andrew Carter said.
The restaurant opened as La Simpatia — intended to mean personality, or good vibrations — in 1944 when brothers Francisco and Rafael Quiroga bought what was formerly the La Charrita Cafe from Martin and Francisca Manriquez and began making authentic Mexican food, including their own tortillas.
"Pancho's Hideaway," nicknamed for Francisco, is at the back of the diner and holds are hard liquor license dating back to the "wild west" days of Guadalupe.
The restaurant became well-known on the Central Coast and has kept pretty much the same menu and same recipes since its early days. It serves three meals a day, with classic Mexican fare as well as hamburgers and breakfast foods served all day.
The business has been kept in the family too — Rafael's daughter Rosa took over as owner in 1991. It has been in magazines and travel guides and even attracted President George W. Bush and his wife Laura in 2000 on a campaign stop.
So much of it is exactly the same as when it first opened, besides some minor updates like reupholstering. The counter is the same, there's still an old fashioned ice box, and the cash register is from decades and decades ago. Four original napkin holders still stand along the counter top.
"This is a real diner," Quiroga said. "It's not made up to look like one."
Socorro Q. Alvarez, Rosa's sister, "grew up" in the restaurant her father Rafael helped open. She was born two years after it opened and is a first hand witness to how little the diner has changed over the years.
"The most significant thing is that [Rosa] kept it as close to the original as possible," Alvarez said.
Patrons can sit at the diner or at the booths up front and watch the cooks make the food, just like they could back in 1944.
However, the diner bar stools have been empty for a few years and the seismic retrofit required the restaurant to be completely gutted. Quiroga made sure to put it all back exactly how it was, however.
When the restaurant reopens they'll use the historic range to cook the food, they'll use handwritten tickets to take orders and spin them on an old wheel around to the back where cooks can fill the order. The historic register is in place to handle the money.
"They were trying to get me to computerize everything and I said no," Quiroga said. "We work the way we always have."
City residents of Guadalupe — known for being an extremely walkable city — have kept tabs on the restaurant, waiting for the day it would open back up. Quiroga has been keeping her cards close to the chest, however.
Two weeks ago the city was abuzz with rumors because one clue made it extremely clear the restaurant is ready.
"The sign is a glorious, old, funky sign," Carter said.
It reads "La Simpatia: Genuine Spanish food cooked to order," and the bright red and yellow sign can now be seen from up and down Guadalupe Street, the city's main drag. Back when the restaurant opened, the restaurant's cuisine was referred to as "Spanish food," and that's yet another thing Quiroga has always kept the same.
It was removed for the construction, but was added back to the storefront on Nov. 12, catching the attention of many city residents and even inspiring an excited post on the Guadalupe Police Department's Facebook page.
"It just looks so beautiful," Quiroga said.
She's been getting calls every day asking when she's going to open for business.
"They call from Las Vegas, Ventura, they've called from all over," Quiroga said. "And they ask my workers and my friends also."
Though she won't say exactly when, she will say that the food has been making its way into the building over the weekend to be prepared, and that the big moment will take place "very, very soon."
Quiroga said she might just decide to put the open sign out randomly and see what happens. She might hold a big opening day "tip-a-cop" event.
Whenever it happens, one thing is for sure. The restaurant will be filled with "good vibrations" once again.
"It's like a family here," Quiroga said.