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Wednesday, Jun 7, 2023

OCBJ Insider: Food and Family

While just hitting the 90-year mark, Ron Salisbury, the Business Journal’s 2023 Restaurateur of the Year, remains busy opening new El Cholo spots: see Christopher Trela’s front-page features on both Newport Beach resident Salisbury’s expansion of the iconic Mexican chain his grandparents started in 1923 and Yucatecan-inspired Chaak Kitchen’s Gabbi Patrick, our 2023 Chef of the Year.

Salisbury tells Trela he’s also busy planning special events to commemorate El Cholo’s century mark this year.

On Thursday, March 30, a ceremony in Los Angeles will be held with the renaming of the intersection of Western Avenue and 11th Street—the longtime home of El Cholo’s first spot, to “Alejandro and Rosa Borquez Square.”

To mark the centennial celebration in 2023, anyone 100 years or older will be able to eat for free at El Cholo. Salisbury quipped: “100-year-olds don’t eat much!”

The restaurants will also be offering a special $100 Margarita, served in a hand-blown, collectible glass. A series of special food items will also be highlighted, including: “A Taste of History” plate featuring four dishes that were on the original El Cholo menu.

The biggest goal of all in 2023: raise $1 million or more for pediatric cancer research. Salisbury tells Trela that he intends to do that not just with restaurant profits, but with naming rights.

“For $25,000 you can have a margarita named after you on the menu, or for $100,000 you get the naming rights to the aquarium at The Cannery,” said Salisbury, referring to his upscale seafood restaurant along Newport Harbor.

“Half the profits go to CHOC and half to Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles. That to me—if we can do that, we have really done something well.”

Ron Salisbury is among the oldest recipients of a Business Journal honor, though he’s not the first in his family to receive an OCBJ food-related nod.

Ron’s son, Creed Salisbury, was named our Chef of the Year in 2006 for his culinary creations at The Cat and Custard Cup restaurant, a longtime La Habra staple that closed in 2020 during the pandemic.

The Salisbury duo aren’t the first father-son restaurant combo to be feted in the paper, either.

Habit Burger Grill CEO Russ Bendel was our Businessperson of the Year in the Restaurant sector in 2019, while son Russ J. Bendel was our Restaurateur of the Year for 2018 when he had three restaurants: Vine in San Clemente, Ironwood in Lake Forest, and Olea in Newport Beach.

He’s since expanded to Sapphire in Laguna Beach, and most recently, Bloom Restaurant + Bar in San Juan Capistrano, which opened in December across from the city’s famed Mission.

The elder Bendel is retiring from Irvine-based Habit Burger in June; Shannon Hennessy, currently the burger chain’s president, will take over the CEO role, the Yum Brands (NYSE: YUM) division announced last week.

Bendel joined The Habit in 2008 and has helped grow its restaurant count from 16 to almost 350 as of 2022.

For more on Yum’s larger Irvine-based chain, Taco Bell and its CEO Mark King, see next week’s print edition of the Business Journal.

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