Four years after bringing its Baja-style fish tacos and salsa to Richmond, a small Hampton Roads-based restaurant chain is heading back toward the ocean.
Pelon’s Baja Grill closed its outpost at 2233 Dabney Road on Saturday. It was the brand’s lone Richmond location.
Co-owner and general manager Cali Muscara said the move comes after the restaurant’s landlord, Brandywine Realty Trust, offered to buy Pelon’s out of the remainder of its 10-year lease.
Muscara said she was approached with the offer so that PPD, a pharmaceutical research company with office space and laboratories across the road, could expand. She said Pelon’s is among about five other businesses that have or will soon vacate the premises to make more space for PPD.
“There are no hard feelings that our lease was bought,” Muscara said. “We were already in the process of opening up another store down in Virginia Beach.”
Muscara’s family, hailing from Orange County, California, started Pelon’s in 2005 with a restaurant in Virginia Beach. The restaurants are owned and operated by Muscara, her parents and siblings. They expanded into Richmond in 2014 and since have opened a Norfolk location, and have another Virginia Beach spot in the works, which partly prompted their decision to turn their focus solely to Hampton Roads.
Muscara said Brandywine approached her about four months prior with the buyout offer, as plans for the new Virginia Beach location were materializing.
“The timing maybe isn’t the best,” Muscara said. “If we would have gotten sooner notice that this place was going to close, maybe we could have held off on another Virginia Beach location and possibly opened up a different one in Richmond. That was a possibility. Who knows if we won’t come back to Richmond in three to four years.”
Tucked in an industrial strip center, Pelon’s 8,500-square-foot Dabney Road location was chosen to serve as both a restaurant and production space. Muscara said the company has run distribution of its salsa and other products out of Richmond, with the original plan being to take those products and open restaurants in Northern Virginia and Washington, D.C.
“It acted like a production facility for the other restaurants and we sent products down to the other locations,” Muscara said. “Hence why we’re in such a weird area. It’s for the kitchen space.
“This location is weird and if we were to move, we would like to move somewhere like Scott’s Addition where it’s more feasible for people to come in.”
Muscara said they initially considered Scott’s Addition when first looking at Richmond in 2014.
“When we were looking at this location five years ago, we were looking at the building in Scott’s Addition where Lamplighter, Isley (Brewing) and the bike shop was,” she said. “At that point Scott’s Addition wasn’t anything yet and we chose to come here. So we kick ourselves in the butt about that.”