Cafe Sevilla has shut down following a dispute with the city of Riverside.
Owners Eric and Anne Van den Haute say their business, which includes a restaurant and an adjacent nightclub, was unfairly targeted by city officials following a shooting incident in October.
They held a meeting with their staff at 3 p.m. Tuesday to break the news. The last day the restaurant and its adjacent nightclub were open was Sunday.
“We’ve been a very stable employer over 20 years,” said Eric Van den Haute. “We’ve survived every recession. We’ve had many, many employees working for us for 15-20 years.”
He said the Riverside venue had 100-120 employees and independent contractors depending on it.
The restaurant, at 3252 Mission Inn Ave., was known for its Spanish cuisine, with a variety of tapas and paellas. Beyond the nightclub, entertainment included flamenco dinner shows.
During a Halloween party at the nightclub in October, a fight broke out and shots were fired in the parking lot and inside the venue with seven people injured, according to police.
“The city is shutting us down,” said Anne Van den Haute. “We’re not closing.”
The city was pursuing a partial revocation of Cafe Sevilla’s conditional use permit affecting its nightclub and rooftop uses, not its restaurant and tapas bar, according to city spokesman Phil Pitchford. The matter was on the agenda for the Planning Commission’s Feb. 7 meeting but was continued until the commission’s March meeting. No decision was made on the permit.
Cafe Sevilla representatives met with city officials on Feb. 11 to discuss the permit. At that meeting, the city displayed an “unwillingness to explore possible modifications or alternative arrangements involving the nightclub,” according to a letter from Cafe Sevilla’s attorney to the city, dated Feb. 15.
The letter stated that Feb. 17 would be the restaurant’s last day of operation.
“Despite spending several days and painstaking efforts to find a practical option to remain open, the fact is, without the use of the nightclub, Cafe Sevilla cannot continue to operate,” the letter to the city reads.
“We made it very clear that the the staff’s recommendation was only for a partial revocation,” city planner Mary Kopaskie-Brown said in a phone interview.
Kopaskie-Brown said the recommendation was based on a pattern of incidents reported by law enforcement officials. The planning department’s report lists 15 incidents between June 7, 2016 and May 26, 2018, in addition to the October shooting.
Cafe Sevilla’s owners deny that the nightclub was responsible for crime and say they are being unfairly blamed for incidents in the surrounding neighborhood.
“Most of the police calls are about homelessness, trespassing and other causes,” said Eric Van den Haute.
In 2018 Sevilla had 16 calls that resulted in a police report, down from 29 in 2017 and 31 five years prior, in 2013, according to the planning department report.
“The City’s decision to aggressively pursue the closure of the Cafe Sevilla nightclub without engaging in any realistic or meaningful discussions with the owners creates a punitive condition that renders operation of Cafe Sevilla no longer economically viable,” the letter reads in part.
Cafe Sevilla is part of a chain of Spanish-themed restaurants with other locations in Long Beach and San Diego. It plans to open a new restaurant in Orange County.
Riverside residents eagerly awaited Cafe Sevilla months before its October 2000 opening. Many knew it from the first Cafe Sevilla that originally opened in San Diego’s Old Town in 1987.
The Riverside location was in a Mediterranean Revival structure that was originally a showroom for Freeland Tractor & Equipment Company.
Cafe Sevilla quickly became a hangout for Inland residents who wanted to sample small plates of Spanish cuisine or sip sangria with their friends.
Anne Van Den Haute said she wants to thank Riverside residents for making Cafe Sevilla a part of their lives for 20 years.
“We had many people that had wedding receptions, that had their first date here,” she said.
Editor’s note: This story has been updated to correct the headline and to clarify more details about the closure.
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