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Bean there, done that

David Larter September 18, 2012 19

The landlord of a popular restaurant in the Fan is looking to spruce the place up and make way for a new tenant.

John Conrad, a lawyer who owns the Stonewall Jackson Professional Center at 1520 W. Main St., won’t renew Baja Bean Co.’s lease when it ends next October and is marketing the space for a new tenant.

Ron Morse, owner of Baja Bean Co., said that he was not pleased to have to leave his Main Street location but that the business will stay in Richmond. Morse also owns Baja Bean locations in Charlottesville and Staunton.

“We’ve been looking at other spaces on Main Street and calling some restaurants that we’ve been hearing are not doing well,” Morse said. “We’re not going to find anything exactly like what we’ve got, because there’s no space like it.”

Baja Bean Co. opened in Richmond in 2000, Morse said, and sales have been strong in the past two years.

“We’ve been here for more than 11 years, and we’ve been doing incredibly well,” Morse said. “Last year we had a record year.”

Baja Bean’s patio area. (photos by David Larter)

Morse said he’s been paying about $9,000 per month in rent for the 10,300-sqauare-foot space, which is based on a percentage of sales. The space includes 7,800 square feet on the ground floor of the property and a 2,500-square-foot outdoor patio area.

Conrad said in an email that he had nothing personal against Baja Bean.

“Although Baja may not be happy about having to move next year, we have no ill will toward Baja Bean and we have given Baja plenty of notice so that they can find other space,” Conrad wrote. “However, Baja Bean needs to move at the end of its lease so that we can redevelop and physically improve the courtyard outside as well as the entire first floor.”

Conrad said that the space’s zoning allows for a variety of uses and that there might be more than one business going in the space.

“We intend to explore a number of retail uses as well as restaurant operations before we reach any conclusion about exactly what uses we place in the first floor,” he wrote.

The Richmond Baja Bean location got some high-profile exposure in May when President Obama kicked off his reelection campaign at Virginia Commonwealth University. “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” sent a correspondent to gauge the enthusiasm of young voters.

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  1. Brett September 18, 2012 at 7:35 am - Reply

    I never understood why Baja didn’t invest in a serious chef. The food is well known to be terrible. Think of how much more money they could have made if they had classed it up just a bit. It wouldn’t have to be expensive, just good. The patio and pool tables were everything. Without those at another location, it’s just another bar. They will really have to step it up. The latest additions to the hood have raised the bar, no pun intended.

    • John S September 18, 2012 at 7:50 am - Reply

      It’s a total dump, and eating next to cobwebs and an inch of dust is a little unappetizing, but I actually like the food most of the time. I usually only go there to drink though. I’m hoping they can improve some things when moving to the next location. They’re also big VCU Basketball supporters, so I hope things will be a little nicer once they start showing away games 🙂

    • Miller September 18, 2012 at 1:23 pm - Reply

      I remember ordering a veggie burrito one day that came to me with moldy vegetables…that was my last visit to Baja to eat or drink…class it up…add some good TVs and food hurry so you can catch VCU basketball season

  2. Brad Bonney September 18, 2012 at 7:40 am - Reply

    It’s sad to see Baja leave this location

  3. RJT September 18, 2012 at 8:03 am - Reply

    Why would they have spent major money on a chef when they are setting record sales? Baja is more loved and more popular than ever. The grit is part of the appeal.

  4. matt September 18, 2012 at 9:25 am - Reply

    This is going to be a mistake, while their food is not great it is still decent. It is the nightlife scene that I will miss the most and the opportunity to sit on the patio, have some tecates and people watch. It will be interesting to see how they will try to replace that awesome patio area.

  5. GRB September 18, 2012 at 11:48 am - Reply

    They serve food?

  6. ice September 18, 2012 at 4:21 pm - Reply

    best fan patio in town

  7. rich September 19, 2012 at 9:25 am - Reply

    Sad. the building owner sounds money hungry. I will not be supporting whatever is next in the space, and i spent thousands over the years in Baja.

    • bobby September 19, 2012 at 11:43 am - Reply

      such a shame that everyone thinks it bad for anyone to make more money these days. it would be ok for the restaurant owner to try and make more money by leaving to find a new location at the end of the lease, so whats the matter with the landlord doing the same by finding a classier biz to rent the space at the end of the same lease. what a double standard! thanks obama for this class warfare mess!

  8. El Diablo September 19, 2012 at 10:22 am - Reply

    I think most people in Richmond 20’s to mid 30’s have some good memories at Baja Bean Co. The cheap Tecate and patio are staples in the Fan/VCU area. So I fully support the facebook pages and overall support of the patrons.
    On the other hand, I see a lot of insults towards the building owner. Calling him “Money Hungry” and whatnot. The truth is, while Baja is a fun place to go for young people, it’s a dump. I lived by it for a while and drunken college students pouring out of there throughout the night is a regular thing. It’s not known for the food, as mentioned above the food is less than desirable. It is known as a drinking spot for college kids with a good patio. The bathrooms are disgusting and I would never take some there for any reason other than to drink because of the overall dive atmosphere. The owner wants to completely renovate and clean the location. Then rent it to multiple businesses (probably not food/beverage. But if so, a higher quality) to upgrade the atmosphere. Regardless of how much revenue Baja brings in, it has a reputation he wants to remove from the property. As a business owner he is probably making a good decision. My point is, if you want to show support for your favorite watering hole, more power to you. But keep it positive. Calling the building owner names does nothing but give the real supporters a bad name.

    • Brett September 19, 2012 at 10:53 am - Reply

      Yes, but the building owner and the restaurant owner are two different entities so you are not disparaging your favorite watering hole by calling the building owner names. In fact you are probably supporting Baja by calling him names because he is kicking them out. I think the landlord is making the right decision though. Screw keeping it positive anyway, this is business, they need the tough love to wake up and see the light. You even said yourself it is a dump, so I’m not sure why you are saying we should keep it positive. It is a dump and they need to know people think so when they build the next one they do it better.

      • El Diablo September 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm - Reply

        Brett, my point is that people shouldn’t be calling the building owner names. Not because it would make Baja look bad, but because it’s counter productive. That accomplishes nothing and may even go against what people are trying to do. Which is convince the owner to change his mind. (Not “open his eyes”) I never said in my paragraph that this is “dumb”. Personally, if I were the building owner of Baja Bean and had offers from reputable companies to fill the space. I would do the same thing. By acting pissy and calling the one person who can change this names, you are sealing the fate of the business. As far as convincing Baja to clean it up, well that’s irreverent in this conversation. If they do end up moving, they will have to do something or they won’t last. There’s too much competition and the name alone isn’t going to do it. Like you said, take away the pool and patio and it’s just another dive bar. But if you want the attorney to change his mind, I would recommend another direction than name calling.

        • Brett September 20, 2012 at 7:31 am - Reply

          I didn’t say anything about “dumb” , I said you said “dump” d-u-m-P . You called it a “dump” and then said that “if you want to show support for you local watering hole” then “keep it positive.”
          And you are right, they won’t last once they move, unless they find another hole to dark hole to crawl into somewhere near VCU and sell dollar beers, but I’m not sure that will be original enough by the time the reopen.

          • El Diablo September 20, 2012 at 7:57 am -

            Sorry, Brett I read it quickly at work and misread your statement. But after reading comments and background from the owner of Baja, I’m pretty sure they have no choice but to move. The owner of the building has been trying to get rid of them for years. Money has never been the issue either because they offered to pay more. He just doesn’t want them in the same building as his law firm, which is understandable. I doubt that deleting messages from his email inbox will make any difference either. The way it looks, they are looking at the Martini Kitchen, Mulligans and a couple of other locations to buy. Mulligans would probably be the best.

  9. rich September 19, 2012 at 2:32 pm - Reply

    is this second grade? name calling? it’s an opinion. a description of what this situation “sounds” like, and the point is that i won’t support the new businesses, and i felt like taking 2 seconds to say that here. i know Baja extremely well, including the people who run it, as well as most of the places in the Fan. sure, they could clean it up. were they asked to? it’s just food, pun intended, for thought. duh, the other points made here make sense, some (irreverent?) anyways. it seems a general distaste for dive bars by some here. you must have had tons of money when you were 21. i appreciate the grit and depth of the experience (and, the lack of depth often too – here’s my money, give me alcohol please), and cheap drinks, among many other things. and, i can appreciate the other end of the spectrum, like sipping on 30 year old scotch and a $400 tab after 6 drinks. variety is spice for me. Baja is for the kids in general. they run a good business for the crowd that they serve. it’s not supposed to be clean. it’s survived where many other “higher quality” places in the area have failed miserably (deluxe, ha!!). it might not be what you want or what the owner wants, but it will be missed by many people who can appreciate a down to earth experience, and value for their money. the location is unique and it seems to work so well in the Richmond scene. goodness, we have so few place to play pool!!! it sounds to me (without getting into what is really happening behind the scenes) like the interest is more in image and money, rather than improving a sound business that has served the students and owner well for so many years. name calling? go watch some more political ads. it’s just sad for me to see Richmond lose another piece of its identity, and to hear how some don’t care. man, i still miss the Flood Zone. what do you want? another panera bread? is that high enough quality for you? the urban sprawl of the worst end has infiltrated enough, no? star*ucks? ugh, i’m gonna be sick. oh, and bobby, you are too silly to even respond to. sorry, is “silly” name calling? my fault. i’ll be quiet now.

    • Brett September 20, 2012 at 7:36 am - Reply

      You can be a dive and be quality. Look at Joe’s Inn, Commercial Taphouse, Bamboo Cafe, Sidwalk Cafe, etc. You are arguing two extremes. There is a middle ground. You don’t have to go from PBR to high end scotch. There is plenty of good in between. If Baja wanted to improve a sound business, then they should have done it a long time ago on their own. It is not the responsibility of the landlord to push them to do it or pay for it. It’s the least they could do for inviting half of Richmond over to puke on his building.

    • El Diablo September 20, 2012 at 8:02 am - Reply

      Good call on being quiet, Rich…
      The owner is being smart not wanting a dirty college bar in the basement of his law firm. But you all acting like a bunch of spoiled kids only goes against what I assume you are trying to do. Which is change the owner’s mind. Like someone else said, you don’t have to either be a complete dump, or Morton’s steak house. There is middle ground. Maybe you should sit the next couple of rounds out…

  10. mandy September 19, 2012 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    NOOOO DONT LEAVE BAJA. i love that place and all the workers

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