It’s late Thursday afternoon on the patio of the . The NFL season has just started, and cheers rise from the adjoining bar.
Enrique Martinez is reflecting on life and on how opportunity comes when you least expect it.
Ramirez, who runs the Señor Fish operating company with his sister Alicia and brother Henry, is also a partner in other restaurants.
Yet, none can boast the standing or loyalty of Señor Fish, which aims to expand to Echo Park later this year.
There are already five incarnations of the Mexican seafood restaurant--less than a chain, but more than just luck.
The essence of the chain’s success is clarity, consistency and a liquor license, according to Colleen Bates, editor of the food blog Eat:LA.
“It has kept its focus clear on what it does: simple, reasonably priced Mexican-style seafood, mostly in taco/burrito/quesadilla form," Bates said.
"It also serves beer--so many taquerias can't get a license--and that's been essential to the success of the Eagle Rock original, since it's an Occidental College hangout. Also it has a lot of worthwhile vegetarian options, which is a must in L.A. these days.”
In a few instances, the Señor Fish locations presaged the gentrification that would surround and ultimately enrich them. Eagle Rock was anything but groovy when the Ramirez family opened for business in 1995; the location at Alameda and First was years away from even the earliest glimmer of a Downtown revival.
South Pasadena was an obvious choice, Alhambra less so. The city was in the process of re-developing its faded core and offered Señor Fish $110,000 to move into one of the storefronts in 1998.
“I was a pioneer there,” he said. “I took the money. It was hard to turn down.”
Later, he added, “I think the lesson is ‘Don’t be tempted by the money, and know your demographics a little better.’”
ECHO PARK LOCATION IS A NATURAL
That could hardly be the problem with the proposed Echo Park location.
Ramirez insists he was looking around Echo Park even before its current revival. The sense of customer direction that restaurateurs live and die by told him that the Eagle Rock and Little Tokyo diners had long attracted visitors from both Silver Lake and Echo Park.
The Little Tokyo location, in particular, held an extra allure for many: it had once housed the Atomic Cafe, a punk-rock mecca.
So why not put a Señor Fish in Echo Park/Silver Lake, and maybe pull some of the Los Feliz crowd as well?
RAMIREZ EYES MORE LOCATIONS
The Señor Fish brand is not quite bulletproof: the Eagle Rock restaurant was briefly re-branded as Señor Fresh when it was run by Alicia’s former husband before being taken back into the family.
But it is certainly strong enough for Ramirez to resume scanning the horizon.
“Señor Fish has a cultural following, from Valencia to Orange County, to the Westside,” Ramirez said. “We aren’t pigeonholed in the local Mexican thing. We appeal to a much broader demographic.”
That will translate anywhere in the country, he believes.
“You can do one or two [new restaurants] yourself," Ramirez said, "but to really explode, you want to get some serious investors."