The Las Guitarras Story... A tradition that endures
My mother Elena and my step-father Roga Pantoja began the Las Guitarras tradition in 1973 in the Mission District of San Francisco. Roga who always loved my mom's cooking told her that they should open a restaurant. Their dream became a reality when they opened the first Las Guitarras on Mission and 23td Street. My step father always said my mom made the best soups chicken, meatball, pozole., menudo and caldo de res. He said they had 100 customers a day just for the soup. The restaurant became an instant success but the landlord would not let them open pass 6pm and eventually they relocated their business to the corner of Mission and 24th Street. Their loyal customers followed them and after ten years, the lease was up and again my parents relocated the restau5rant to South Van Ness. Through the natural process of growth and change, the chain of Las Guitarras restaurants included, Broadway and Kearny, San Rafael, Novato and Cotati.
Over the years my parents have endured several obstacles along the way, there was fire, vandalism, the language barrier, the landlord who took advantage of them, the loan shark who wanted their business, the crooked accountant who stole money intended for the IRS, and inevitably the IRS itself and most recent the death of our beloved brother Dan Garcia. But my parents always picked themselves up and forged ahead, buoyed by the two loves of family and cooking. I believe it was in 1970, when my mother stopped to ask fro directions and Roga was so smitten by her, he asked her out to lunch. It's a second marriage for both, and between them they have 13 children, many of whom work with them at Las Guitarras over the years.
The Novato restaurant, now our only location has become a destination for everyone who loves fresh mode traditional authentic Mexican food and seafood dishes. My mother who was born in Mexico and grew up in Cuernavaca and Pueblo de Los Angeles, learned most of her recipes in her native country and Las Guitarras' menu reflects that authenticity. She enjoys cooking for our family and makes everything with love. My stepfather was born in Mexico and grew up in Guadalajara. He has a very strong work ethic and great determination to succeed in any project he starts.
Las Guitarras de Novato, located at 1017 Reichert Avenue opened in 1978 and continues to provide a family-friendly atmosphere. My brother david and I oversee the daily operations and our brother Joe helps on weekends. My sons Alex and Josh are servers along with my sister-in law Noemi, our Aunt Emma, cousin Dulce and Clara. Our cousin Lalo is a one man show behind the bar serving you the "Best Margarita" this side of the border! my nieces Elenita, Evonne and Aryana hostess whenever possible and my youngest nephew Gabriel will surely entertain you.
In the 1990's my parents, at the urging of friends and customers began to bottle and sell the red and green salsas and our Mexican Barbeque Sauce. The same sauce that made our barbequed oysters famous county-wide. My parents and I began doing demonstrations at farmers markets and super markets. One day a man gave my stepfather a business card, which he put in his pocket and forgot about it until the end of the day. On it the man had written, "Call me. I like your salsa." The business card belonged to the vice president of Safeway.
The sauce we originally bottled in our restaurant kitchen was now cooked and bottled by a San Bruno Company, and production mushroomed from 40 cases a month to 300; the goal was 1,000 cases by the end of the year. The Las Guitarras barbeque sauce and green & red salsas were in 70 Safeway stores and in many other markets in Sonoma and Marin. I recall many customers and people who lived out of state phoning the restaurant and wanting us to shop them the salsas. I can't remember when or why my parents stopped the production of the salsas but my brother David and I would like to bottle and sell it again.
In 1994, my parents, along with my brother Dan opened Las Guitarras de Cotati. The family was very excited and I remember my step-father and my mother working very hard, putting in many hours of physical work and making trips to Mexico and back, purchasing the dining room chairs, fountains and other furnishings just so the Cotati Restaurant could have that warm welcoming Mexican ambiance. Las Guitarras de Cotati was an instant success and my brother Dan who was partners with my parents, really made it a fun family-friendly atmosphere. Dan managed the restaurant and he was frequently assisted by our brother Joe who was a bartender, waiter and would help close the restaurant after a busy night. A few other family members also worked at the Cotati location.
My mother's dream was that both Dan & Joe would one day become the owners of the Cotati restaurant. Las Guitarras de Cotati loyal customers made the restaurant a popular place that felt like home. In 2007 Dan was diagnosed with cancer and he passed away on may 22, 2008. For two more years his loyal customers and loving friends continued to frequent Las Guitarras de Cotati but in October of 2010, his widow decided to close the restaurant for good. This was a shock to our family, friends and our loyal customers of Cotati of sixteen years. However my family is currently looking for a new location for the next Las Guitarras. Furthermore, we would like to invite everyone who loves our authentic Mexican food and who have enjoyed my mother's recipes over the years to stop by Las Guitarras de Novato and enjoy a wonderful meal on our patio while sipping a Margarita and listening to the splashing sounds of the fountain. Here you will be greeted by one of the family members and if you have a special request please don't hesitate to ask because our family takes pride in making sure our customers our happy with the food and service. Our food is cooked daily and is always fresh, delicious and satisfying. Las Guitarras Restaurant is a tradition that continues to endure.