Familia Diaz Restaurant will close this door after a year-long celebration. Located at the corner of 10th Street and East Harvard Boulevard, the restaurant will close at the end of December.

Familia Diaz: Famed eatery open since 1936 now celebrating last year

January 14, 2015
Santa Paula News

Known for the bumper sticker photos taken around the world and the pictures of thousands of celebrations where those having a birthday wore an oversized sombrero, Familia Diaz Restaurant will wind down business with a year-long celebration.

For the next 12 months Familia Diaz will offer free meals for those sharing memorabilia, the same delicious food famed for decades throughout Southern California.

Located at the corner of 10th Street and East Harvard Boulevard, the restaurant will close at the end of December.

Dan Diaz said, “It was a variety of things,” that led to the family decision to close what is likely the oldest consistently family-owned business in Ventura County. 

Dan is the grandson of the original owners of Las Quince Letras that opened in 1936, a cantina with a limited but delicious menu for diners separated from the family home by only a wall.

Dan’s mother, Celia, “Passed away almost two years ago and since then it’s like we’ve been running on five cylinders instead of eight. Mortality set in,” among those family members actively involved in operating the business, namely Dan and his sister Sandi Diaz-Tovias; their father Tony continues to help out.

Losing Celia, famed for her tamales, “Kind of started the whole thing,” and after attempts to sell the business the decision was made to close with a “Year-long bon voyage party.”

Five generations have been involved in the restaurant, known for grand celebrations including for its own longevity.

“Our 50th, 60th, 70th and 75th anniversaries were very special,” with the celebration of six decades featuring a cruise giveaway and the 70th introducing the Tamale Eating Contest, repeated for the 75th anniversary.

“As we enter our 80th year we decided it was time to head out into the sunset,” although Dan is not yet sure if there will be a Tamale Eating Contest.

Said Dan, “Mom did that... and an 80-ounce tamale is like five-pounds!” The restaurant - which stared with 23 seats and now has 150 - is leaving the family with, “so many good memories... it’s mind-boggling to think how many generations have come through those doors.”

And that includes those with their own memories and even mementos: “We’re going to put up a memorabilia wall... Dorcas Thille has a check she wrote the restaurant for $20; she fed a family of five for that in1962! And we have a Las Quince Letras ashtray from 1940 that belonged to our grandfather. It has the phone number on it: 823.”

Dan said there are “cantina receipts from the 1940s, the original hard liquor license and the original note, the first $30 payment my grandfather made to the Bank of America,” on the $3,000 loan for the abandoned bakery with a small house on the property. 

Those with old photographs or other Las Quince Letras memorabilia will be rewarded with a free meal. 

Pepa and “Don” Jose Diaz probably didn’t realize their cantina would evolve into the powerhouse Familia Diaz or that generations of the family would continue to give back to the community through various charities, fundraisers and participation in civic groups. 

Familia Diaz has also been honored as a restaurant such as ranking multiple times in the Los Angeles Times “Best Of... “ eateries and as an enterprise, recognized by the Chamber of Commerce and others as Business of the Year.

“It’s time and it’s bittersweet but I’m happy and excited and looking forward to a new chapter,” said Sandi Diaz-Tovias.

“I’m sad leaving... a lot of employees are like family, but it’s just time. And I’m excited to see what happens next.”

Sandi grew up in the restaurant - almost literally: “When I was three, when we used to live around the corner on Ojai Street, all of a sudden one day I was missing.”

After frantically searching the neighborhood, “Mom called my dad... and he said ‘Sandi’s here!’ I ran away from home at three years old and went to see my dad.

“Little did I know,” laughed Sandi, “that I would grow up and be running the business,” that “consumed my dad. He worked all the time, so much that when I was in high school I would walk to the restaurant once a week just to visit him.”

Familia Diaz, said Sandi, “Has been here all my life and it’s hard to see it go... but it’s just time. And we want to leave on a high note... “

As word of the closure has spread, “We’ve gotten such positive feedback from people, it’s heartwarming that Familia Diaz created such wonderful memories,” for generations of customers and friends.

There was always a free meal for those that paused in their travels to pose in front of a landmark with a Familia Diaz bumper sticker and for generations of families a birthday not celebrated at Familia Diaz, including  wearing that oversized sombrero, was not a special day.

“Whomever buys us will be creating beautiful memories for other people... let’s see what the future brings for them.”

But there are some memories Sandi said can’t be recreated: “Things changed so much since Grandpa and Grandma opened up... we had an uncle that lived on South Mountain working with horses in the 1940s,” who would saddle up to visit the cantina.

“If he had too many he would bring his horse into the restaurant to sleep it off! “  

“It has been a long run,” said Tony Diaz, “and we all looked at each other and said, ‘I’m tired!’ I went in when I was 21 to be the manager” more than 60 years ago.

But none of the family will ever tire of those that visited the famed eatery: “So many wonderful, wonderful customers... I see people that are in their 60s now and they say, ‘Remember me? I used to come in with my family when I was five or six years old!’

“So many beautiful, wonderful memories, we’re so grateful,” and, noted Tony, “Overwhelmed to even contemplate how long we’ve been Familia Diaz and all the memories we have.”

Sandi said now is the time for the family to “focus and be proud of all the accomplishments, what Familia Diaz has done for the community and the people served. 

“We’ve employed five generations of family and hopefully taught them a strong work ethic,” and forged lifelong relationships with other employees that were a part of the Familia Diaz family.

Sandi expects many visitors to the restaurant to share memories that “Will be so fun to hear!”

A variety of events and specials will be featured throughout the year. Happy Hour has been expanded from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. daily and, during that time, there will be a 30 percent discount for beer, margaritas and appetizers ordered in the bar area.

Call 525-2813 or visit www.familiadiazrestaurant.com.

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