El Balazo, a popular chain of Mexican restaurants, abruptly closed the doors of its East Bay locations Wednesday.

El Balazo, which was raided by immigration officials two years ago with dozens of workers arrested, has apparently shut all but its original location on Haight Street in San Francisco. Its Concord, San Ramon, Danvillle, Lafayette and Pleasanton locations have shut down.

A worker who answered the phone at the Haight Street location Friday said that restaurant was still open. However, calls and visits to eight other locations found none open.

A call Friday to the company's catering line in Danville was answered by a woman who said there would be no comment and hung up.

A former employee who worked for El Balazo for four years and ran security for the chain, said he got a text message shortly before his shift began Wednesday. The man, who did not want his name used for fear of repercussions, said the text said the restaurant was closing all locations at 6 p.m.

He said he and other employees met with a manager Thursday night, who said tax issues led to the closing and that they would not be getting paid for the past week of work. He said about 300 people worked for the company.

Owners Nicole and Marino Sandoval could not be reached for comment. Workers at the recently opened Mama Rosa Pizza and Pasta in Pleasanton, owned by the Sandoval's son Sebastian Sandoval, said neither he nor other family members were available for comment.


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The Balazo security manager said he was called a few weeks ago by his student loan collectors, who were supposed to be garnishing 15 percent of his wages since March 2009. The loan collectors told him they had not received their money. The employee said restaurant managers said there had been an accounting error and that a check would be issued for the more than $2,000 owed on his loan, but that never happened.

A check of records at the Alameda County Clerk-Recorder's Office found a lien against El Balazo filed in November by the state Board of Equalization, which collects state sales and use taxes in addition to fuel, alcohol, and tobacco taxes and fees. The state agency cannot give details about the case because of privacy laws, a representative said.

Among other records in Contra Costa County was a November 2008 civil judgment against El Balazo fpr the The Diamond Meat Co. for $49,888, and a foreclosure sale on a piece of property owned by Marino and Nicole Sandoval, that had been scheduled for Nov. 9. 2009.

The first El Balazo opened in 1993 according to the restaurant Web site. The site touts 10 locations, though only nine are listed — including two in San Francisco and others in Concord, Danville, Pleasanton, San Ramon and Lafayette.

In May 2008 immigration officials raided 11 El Balazop branches and arrested 63 workers, mainly from Mexico, on suspicion of illegal residency.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the investigation is continuing. She said ICE was not involved in the restaurant closings.

Staff writers Doug Duran, Chris Metinko, Matt O'Brien and Rick Radin contributed to this story. Contact Eric Louie at 925-847-2123.