Santa Clara’s treasured El Camino Mongolian BBQ at 3380 El Camino Real (cross street: Nobili Ave.) will permanently close after Dec. 15. After 17 years of providing delicious food prepared on a grill by chefs, restaurant owner John Seo and his wife, Sunny, will retire. In March, the couple will return to Korea.
“I have many happy memories at my restaurant with my employees, customers and the Santa Clara and San Jose community,” Seo said. “The effects of COVID put a lot of stress and worry on me. I never dealt with this kind of difficulty before in my whole life.
“Even though I’m sad to close the restaurant, I’m happy that I accomplished my American dream,” Seo continued. “I want to say ‘thank you’ to my employees, customers and my wife, Sunny, for being my permanent support.”
According to Seo, since the pandemic began, business has not returned to normal at his restaurant.
“When the doors of the restaurant reopened in June 2020, we had a 70 percent decrease in customers,” Seo said. “This year, we have had only 50 to 60 percent of the customers we had before back in 2019. I had to pay rent. The labor cost, such as the minimum wage, increased. The price of meat and vegetables increased. I increased the price of my meals only a little bit. But each month, I was losing money.”
Seo is grateful for the helpful support his business has received.
“A lot of people supported us on the GoFundMe page,” Seo said. “I received a PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) loan. I also got money from the RRF (Restaurant Revitalization Fund) and grants from the City of Santa Clara and the State of California. I borrowed money from my relatives in the U.S. and in Korea.”
When asked what will happen to the 7,000 plus photographs of satisfied diners gracing the walls and ceiling of the restaurant, Seo said, “I don’t want to throw away the pictures. These are good, warm memories that the customers had here. I hope these photos will go up in a new restaurant.”
Seo, who must clean out his restaurant site before Dec. 31, hopes a buyer will purchase his restaurant equipment and décor, which includes the photographs of the diners. He is willing to train this party to operate a restaurant.
“The package I am offering is not too expensive,” Seo said. “We hope someone can take my restaurant’s legacy and reputation and use our recipes to continue serving customers.
“If someone is looking for good employees, I can recommend my employees who, unfortunately, have to leave their jobs here,” Seo continued.
During this year’s Thanksgiving, Seo and his wife visited their children, who live on the East Coast.
“We had a family meeting,” Seo said. “My children told us to close the restaurant, retire and return to Korea. My children, who have jobs, say that since Sunny and I have supported them through their education, now they will support us.”
For now, Seo can be reached at email@example.com.