The San Fernando Valley's oldest known family-owned restaurant, whose roots hark back to the Great Depression, will soon call it quits.
Sierra's Mexican Restaurant of Canoga Park, beloved by generations of Valley dealmakers, aerospace workers and families, announced its last combination platter will be dished out New Year's Eve.
The owner of the Canoga Park landmark said he will also close a sister Mission Burrito restaurant next door. Both were sold to make way for unspecified development.
"The restaurant is a dinosaur," said Reagan Jaramillo, grandson of founder Ed Sierra, inside Sierra's tropical dining room unchanged since his father opened it 43 years ago at Canoga Avenue and Vanowen Street.
"I'm very sad. Sad for my employees, averaging 15 years, and for three generations of customers."
The closure of Sierra's, which began in San Fernando and ended 80 years later in Canoga Park, marks the end of a Valley institution, customers say.
Before it burned to the ground a few years ago, appetites swirled around the San Fernando Sierra's famous for its humongous platters at affordable prices.
If there was a deal to be made in the Northeast Valley, it was done over strong margaritas at Sierra's.
Its sprawling dining room in Canoga Park, which grew out of a former Old Vic's Restaurant acquired in 1969, drew thousands of workers from nearby Rocketdyne, Litton and local businesses.
Outside work, customers drove miles for its Sunday brunch buffet, still priced at $11. Or its Taco Wednesdays, for $1 apiece. Or its potent Tijuana iced tea.
Moreover, they came for Sierra's deep vinyl booths, dark wooden grottoes and jungle of plastic and painted vines and ferns.
Mention its demise, and be prepared for a gnashing of teeth. Some equate it with Tommy's or Pink's, among other low-brow L.A. foodie icons.
"I'm sad," said Traci Blumenthal, 49, of Calabasas, over a taco plate.
"Sierra's is the No. 1 restaurant in Canoga Park," said Marian Wojdak, who for a quarter century has kept the books at Canoga Auto Body up the street, which maintains a small museum for the West Valley community. "Ask anyone where they're going to lunch, it's Sierra's.
"How can they take a landmark away? It's horrible ... I'm telling you, when you say Mexican, you say Sierra's. It's a historic landmark, another one going down the tubes for the sake of the almighty dollar."
Actually, when you say Sierra's, you could have been saying Spanish cuisine, instead. Had it stuck to its original menu, you would be saying tapas instead of enchiladas.
It started with Edward G. Sierra, an immigrant from Spain, who founded Ed Sierra's Spanish Cafe in 1932.
He had worked on Mulholland's California Aqueduct. He'd helped restore the chapel at San Fernando Mission. He'd even run the 23-room Hotel Alta during the 1918-19 Spanish Flu epidemic, treating sick guests with his remedy of tea, honey, rum and garlic.
He ran a Sierra's Poolroom in San Fernando until the lifting of Prohibition - when he converted his home into a restaurant liquor store.
His cafe was later moved to 500 San Fernando Mission Road. In 1965, he sold it to his son-in-law, Gil Jaramillo. Sierra died in 1991.
It was Jaramillo who, after founding (and later selling) Mission Brand Tortillas, switched to Mexican fare and changed the name to Sierra's.
And it was the elder Jaramillo who expanded the growing cafe to Canoga Park in 1969. A plasterer for local movie studios, he soon recruited his studio friends to redecorate the new Sierra's like a hacienda from Old Mexico - right down to the fake iron bolts anchoring interior wooden beams, and the lush painted foliage.
Quality and affordable was the motto: Jaramillo wanted customers to come back two or three times a week, his son said.
Demand was so great, the elder Jaramillo expanded it three times, to 9,000 square feet. In 1973, he and his wife, Fay turned the nearby Gus's Chicken Shack into adjacent Mission Burrito.
At its peak, Sierra's offered disco nights. Its nightly waiting list for the 300-seat dining room was 2 1/2 hours, Reagan Jaramillo said.
It's now 15 minutes, at most.
"We've been here for a long time," Jaramillo, 58, a lanky man with long gray hair and a dangling Fu Manchu moustache, strolling between a warren of empty booths. "My family has employed 100 people for 40 to 50 years."
Sierra's had hoped for a 100th anniversary, according to its website. But with the inexorable march of development out of Woodland Hills' Warner Center, Jaramillo said it was time to roll the last taquito.
The Village at Westfield Topanga mall plans a $500 million mixed-use development at Topanga Canyon Boulevard and Owensmouth Avenue, with a Costco, 100 shops and restaurants.
To the north across Victory Boulevard, the 47-year-old Rocketdyne plant may soon be converted to high-rises. United Technologies Corp., which is selling the rocket-engine maker that propelled America to the moon, will retain the Rocketdyne property.
Last summer, it announced plans to fill nearly the entire block across from Sierra's with a 16-story hotel, rows of 12-story homes and offices, plus scores of stores and restaurants.
Catty-corner to the low- slung Sierra's is a 300-unit, four-story luxury apartment complex now under construction. It's scheduled to open next year.
Last month, the Los Angeles Planning Commission signed off on new development guidelines for Warner Center that provide a blueprint for growth through 2035. The Warner Center Specific Plan includes the area roughly bounded by Vanowen Street, the Ventura (101) Freeway, De Soto Avenue and Topanga Canyon Boulevard.
"In other words," Jaramillo said, "there's going to be a Disneyland-(like) park. When you get off the bus, you're going to see a new city, with parks, lakes and recreation.
"The city outgrew us. There's no way we can compete with city plans. I don't want to be the one holding up progress."
Jaramillo declined to say how much his Jaramillo Enterprises Inc. sold the 100,000 square-foot property for. He also said a confidentiality agreement stipulates he cannot name the new owner.
While the Mission Burrito in Canoga Park will close, he said, the Mission Burrito in West Hills will remain open. There may be plans for a Mission Burrito franchise - or even another Sierra's restaurant someday, he said.
"Everybody is kind of depressed," said Shelly Avalos, Sierra's manager, who will keep her job working at the last Mission Burrito. "I'm depressed, for them."
Other longtime employees said they were given only a few weeks notice. "They didn't say thanks," said Raul Gonzales, a waiter in a tuxedo shirt who began busing tables at age 16 in 1980. "They just gave us a reference card. I am sad."
One Valencia man who first discovered Sierra's in San Fernando two decades ago said he will miss its unique atmosphere. The food was great, the decor unique. He said it made you feel at home.
Kevin Baxter will miss the Sierra's nachos, but will especially miss its signature Tijuana iced tea - like its Long Island cousin, but with tequila.
"Nobody makes it like they do," said Baxter, 53. "It's just sad to see it close."