Last Call at Nati’s in Ocean Beach

by on June 21, 2018 · 27 comments

in Ocean Beach

By Gail Powell

Thursday, June 7 was the last call for the popular Nati’s Mexican Restaurant, once located at 1852 Bacon Street in Ocean Beach.

My daughter and I made sure to be there right when it opened for business at 11 a.m on this final day and the spacious parking lot was already full early on. The vibe felt like you were attending a wake. But things were about to get much more depressing when I made the acquaintance of a fellow lady in mourning.

After trying to sit outside, it was just too hot out so my daughter and I ventured inside to visit with the portrait of beloved former waitress Luisa, one more time. We sat down to some really slow service–the place was so busy, book-keepers and family-members were pitching in to help. However, we slowed down our roll to just try and enjoy the experience.

Next to us sat a poor soul in despair. This older Point Loma High School alumni was torn apart by her favorite restaurant being sold. She had come to dine every single day since a closing date was announced. And seeing the 2 other empty margarita glasses sitting on the table, it seemed she was also drowning her sorrows in tequila.

This woman told us that she was friendly with certain well-connected employees, who are also very upset with how this entire Nati’s ending was mismanaged from the get-go.

The fellow diner told me the new owners also loved Nati’s -or, at least they claimed to, when they dined there earlier this year. They told one of the now- former owners that they lived in Pacific Beach and drove all the way over to come to Nati’s. Perhaps the owner expressed a desire to retire to the Pot Pie capitalist and before you know it, a sale was pending through Tony Franco Realty. An offer had been made that was too hard for owners Marilyn and Dennis to pass up.

When Ponce, the former cook who went on to open his own delicious Mexican eatery named Ponce’s on Adams Avenue in Kensington heard about this sale and closure, he and his family were heartbroken, according to my Nati’s pal. She spoke directly with his son, Ponce Jr., who also manages Ponce’s restaurant.

According to our dining neighbor, Ponce Jr. said Ponce would have been willing and able to buy Nati’s and keep it open as a Mexican eatery, had he known it was for sale.

As you may know from a previous rave of mine here, Ponce’s eatery has many similarities to Nati’s. Ponce opened a Mexican restaurant for his daughter who moved to Oregon so he knows how to do it and is a successful and prosperous businessman. Nati’s had never been offered for sale. The naive ownership immediately fell prey to the charms of the Pot Pie owner and that was that. A deal was made.

But it was too late. Nati’s owners blubbered – when told of the Ponce offer – that a contract had already been signed, as recounted by our fellow diner. She told me the entire Ponce family was devastated over the circumstances of the closing and they also came to dine, sadly, at Nati’s one last time during the final week.

But things were not going along swimmingly here.

A San Diego Reader story by Julie Stalmer detailed how SOHO (Save Our Heritage Organization) wanted to designate a portion of the Nati’s property as historic; thus saving it from the wrecking ball. Well, a disgusted customer took matters into their own hands and filed an ABC complaint against the sale / transfer of the liquor license.

Both the SOHO and ABC problems were holding up escrow completion, my inebriated friend told me, as she heard the ABC complaint was over lack on transparency and the lack of need for another bar in that mixed residential/ retail part of Bacon Street. The “500 foot rule” was cited in the complaint; whereby–if there are 3 or more other bars within 500 feet of a new or transferred liquor license (Noodle House, Raglan and the Mexican place on Bacon & Newport) a community hearing must be held to determine the need for yet another bar in the area.

No matter what, Nati’s is gone. I drove by yesterday and there was a big moving truck in the parking lot loading things up. It felt like another stab to the heart (and stomach).

My drunken friend said the lesson here is greed, pure and simple. All the gushing notes about how much the customers meant to the owners over the years–posted on Facebook and the Nati’s front window – apparently meant nothing.

I feel the closing of Nati’s was mishandled from the get-go. Patrons complained they weren’t told about what was really happening. Marilyn told me directly that the new owners promised her they would keep it Nati’s after the sale. I asked if she had that added to the contract, and all I got was more blubbering.

Sorry to original owner Mr. Lontz–a wonderful man–who is probably rolling over in his grave over what transpired here.

So farewell to this most wonderful place. I wish all employees good luck in securing new jobs. And I know that I will never set foot in whatever new restaurant appears in Nati’s place.

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Tyler June 21, 2018 at 12:01 pm

The food at Nati’s is objectively mediocre. Their “voted best restaurant” is an open joke among many in OB, as those votes are nefarious at best.

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Geoff Page June 22, 2018 at 9:57 am

Tyler, do you make a habit of pissing on someone’s grave? Geez, show a little restraint.

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Tyler June 23, 2018 at 6:12 am

This person wrote an irrational piece on a place with bad food. Sorry for being real Geoff.

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Geoff Page June 25, 2018 at 10:20 am

Your “being real” is only for you. Maybe you should think about what most parents teach their kids, if you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything.

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Tyler June 26, 2018 at 9:45 am

Then I suppose you should take a page out of your own post and stop whining about every development on the peninsula?

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Geoff Page June 26, 2018 at 10:04 am

Ah, the classic diversionary tactic. Break glass and use when criticized.

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marc johnson June 22, 2018 at 5:57 pm

Just stick to your Taco Bell and Rubio’s

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Tyler June 23, 2018 at 6:12 am

I’ll just stick to actually good Mexican food but thanks

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Oldob June 21, 2018 at 12:14 pm

Sorry Gail, it’s hard to see things change. The community I grew up in has had a lot of that, also. But let’s not vilify the people who rightfully sold their business. I seriously doubt they came into Nati’s ownership with the intention to greedily screw over the kind citizens of OB by closing down their beloved restaurant. Not every business owner has money to burn and just like the rest of us they are trying to improve their lot in life. So don’t take it so personally. My suggestion would be to invite your drunk friend over for some cocktails and help each other GET OVER IT!!

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William June 21, 2018 at 1:19 pm

The owners of Pot Pie did not buy Nati’s. They potential tenants of the new owner and not responsible for the closing of Nati’s. I hope if they do decide to lease the space that Ocean Beach will welcome them.

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Chris June 21, 2018 at 9:07 pm

Pop Pie.

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Debbie June 21, 2018 at 1:20 pm

For those that are sad, be happy you enjoyed Nati’s for so many years. Things do not last forever. It’s like loosing a good neighbor. People more on and you can only hope for the ones that replace them to be as good, great, kind and fun as the last.

No one loved it that much to buy it and “keep it the way it is/was” and therefore life changes. Remember the good times.

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Mercy Baron OBMercy June 21, 2018 at 5:35 pm

It’s POP PIE, not pot pie, although that’s what they make. It’s delicious and you’ll be missing out by not going.

Natis didn’t even tell their own employees they sold the place while they were still open. So don’t make them out to be so altruistic.

I saw the report on the possible designation for historical status. Thank goodness it was nothing worth saving. I know many won’t agree but it’s time to move on.

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Chris June 21, 2018 at 9:02 pm

Nati’s wasn’t even that good.

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Al Rox June 21, 2018 at 6:27 pm

It will be missed,yup OB is a changing,at least it’s not going to be sum franchise or something…Ive always liked “PoT”pies?yum

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Chris June 21, 2018 at 7:44 pm

I have to agree with Tyler. Every time I’ve been there (about 5 times) over the course of 20 years I always though the food was mediocre at best. The only reason I went back after the first two times was because of being with someone who insisted on going there.
While I am sad the see a local restaurant that so many seem to love go, I am gobsmacked that it’s been voted best restaurant in OB so many times. Seriously? Is it really for the food or for the memories? I guess Ponce had already let before the very first time I went there. Maybe when he was in the kitchen the food was better, because Ponce’s is amazing. Polar opposite quality wise to Nati’s. I’ll be heading up to Portland next here and am looking forward to hitting up his daughter’s restaurant Rocio’s.

If the Pop Pie Co. place goes in, as most people reading this already know there is one in University Heights. I’ve been there a couple times and it’s not bad.

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Geoff Page June 22, 2018 at 10:01 am

A restaurant is not just about the food. How many ridiculously expensive restaurants are out there with a menu that isn’t so special but people flock there for the atmosphere so they can have six waiters and a guy with a little snowplow raking breadcrumbs off the table? Nati’s had atmosphere of a different kind, the OB kind, that’s what made it so beloved.

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Tyler June 22, 2018 at 1:10 pm

No one flocks to a trendy restaurant if the food is mediocre (although I guess Hodads could make a solid case against my statement). They’re trendy because the food is good in addition to the ambiance. Nati’s certainly had a certain vibe to it but restaurants are always about the food at the end of the day.

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Geoff Page June 22, 2018 at 1:24 pm

Oh, I’d have to disagree. I’ve been to some of these places and the food was not outstanding and the only reason I could see why some people were there was because they were expensive, had a great location, and they had enough wait staff to wipe you nose. Check out the restaurants at Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, the food is not great but the atmosphere brings them in.

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Tyler June 23, 2018 at 6:10 am

You’re not really trying to compare Fisherman’s Wharf to Natis are you?

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Chris June 22, 2018 at 10:11 pm

True but your examples are completely not what I’m talking about. I get that Nati’s was a no frills comfortable neighborhood family oriented restaurant. My favorite kind. And I’m not expecting or want 4 star dining in that kind of place. But even within those parameters I always thought they were sub par. The author mentions the similarities with Ponce’s. Ponce’s has the same family neighborhood feel but much better food.

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Tish Levante June 21, 2018 at 9:52 pm

I remember when OB was nothing but mom and pop places. Now it’s just pop pies. Very sad!

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Elisabeth June 22, 2018 at 11:13 am

I also think it’s a bit harsh to call the owners “greedy” just because they wanted to sell their business! That’s their right and doesn’t make them bad people. Things change and that’s okay. Ocean Beach has had a lot of good changes recently – OB Lanes and Voltaire Beach House, Plant Power (which is a chain, but nobody complained about that), Apple Tree Market, the OB Garden Cafe, OB Surf Lodge, etc. It’s great when new businesses come in and offer something new to our community.

I haven’t been to the other Pop Pie location, but I looked it up online and it looks delicious – I think it would be a great addition to the Newport area as we don’t have any other business like it.

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marc johnson June 22, 2018 at 6:02 pm

With the purchase of that lot for over 5 million dollars I hear pop pies will have to charge you $25 for one just to make ends meet with the overhead

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Peter from South O June 23, 2018 at 10:42 am

Reading this comment thread it appears that some think that the “Pot Pie” is an owner, not just a rumored tenant. I’ve eaten twice at the Pot Pie Shop in University Heights and can report that their menu AND ambiance is gonna fit in just fine with OB.

HOWEVER:

Standby for upcoming shenanigans from this dude:
https://obrag.org/2018/01/new-owner-of-natis-building-in-ocean-beach-has-record-of-conflicts-with-other-communities/

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Peter from South O June 23, 2018 at 10:44 am

Pop Pie.

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Debbie July 9, 2018 at 8:40 pm

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