Baja Bean on the Corner has been the site of many beginnings, like this 2011 wedding, karaoke event for Noah and Trisha Goodall, but the end will come on May 31.
"It is probably the only place that I'll ever miss losing," says Trish Goodall of the Corner Bean. "Just the thought of Baja Bean makes me smile - the other locations just aren't the same."
After 21 years of serving up California-style Mexican food, Baja Bean Co. on The Corner is closing. At Midnight on May 31, the iconic Corner hangout will serve its last margarita. Fortunately for area taco-lovers, the Baja on Route 29 will remain open, as will locations in Staunton and Richmond. Owner Ron Morse tells Dish that his other concept, Station 2 in Richmond's Shockoe Bottom, is still very much open, and a new venture in Richmond, Postbellum, will be opening soon. Despite the success and growth of his other restaurants, the closure of the Corner Bean has hit him and his employees hard.
"It was a business decision," says Morse. "When we opened on the Corner in 1992 there were nine restaurants; now there are around 33 places. Fifteen years ago, if you were on the youngish side, you went to the Corner. Now it’s the Downtown Mall."
Morse said he informed his employees of the decision to close late Monday night, May 20, describing the announcement as one of the hardest things he's had to do. The Corner Baja manager of 12 years was especially devastated by the news, he says, but luckily she'll now be working at the Route 29 location. Morse is also happy to report that most of his Corner employees will be heading to the new Sedona Taphouse in the former Sloan's space on Millmont Street, which opens June 10, as the owner of the Richmond-based restaurant is a friend.
Still, it’s hard to let go of your first-born.
"It's pretty depressing that it’s done," Morse says. "After being there for so long, it's going to be sad for a lot of regulars."
For Noah and Trisha Goodall, the Corner Baja Bean was the place where their friendship, and later love, blossomed. They were regulars at the Bean's Thursday karaoke nights, and Noah even came up with the core idea of his UVA civil engineering dissertation at the bar.
"I've got it written down on a napkin somewhere," he says.
In 2011, the two held their wedding reception at the Bean, and Morse and company let them set up a karaoke DJ.
"I was really looking forward to going back for karaoke on future anniversaries," says Trisha. " It is probably the only place that I'll miss ever losing. Just the thought of Baja Bean makes me smile - the other locations just aren't the same."
"I'm very sad to see it go," says Noah. " It was one of the few places on the Corner that was welcoming to grad students and townies, yet still had cheap drink specials. It will be missed."
Baja isn't the only member of the Corner old guard that has fallen in the explosion of new Corner locations and the growing popularity of the Downtown Mall. Café Europa closed its corner location early this year, although the catering portion of the business continued. St. Maarten closed, though only briefly, reopening after loyal patrons banded together to save it. With the closing of veteran Corner restaurants like Baja, not only are delicious meals disappearing, but places where countless memories have been made are being lost as well. Morse reminisces fondly about both the customers who came through his door and the employees who served them.
“Dave Matthews used to come in for open mic nights," Morse recalls. "Even after he was famous he came in. Once he signed a musician's bar stool, but of course someone took it.”
Another of Morse's favorite memories: "Getting a bus and taking the Corner crew to the Staunton Bean when it opened. That was fun.”
To Morse and his employees, the Corner Baja was more than just a business. Multiple couples met there as workers and now have children, Morse says. Other employees have gone on to careers as doctors, lawyers, and other professionals.
Even Morse’s window washer was nostalgic when learning of the decision to close, telling him that he remembered when Morse’s wife was pregnant with their first child.
“My vendors — they’re more like friendships,” Morse says.
To honor the long-standing connection between the Corner Baja and its patrons, Morse says that May 31, the last day the restaurant will be open for business, will be customer appreciation day.
"It's going to be real hard when we start doing things like taking down signs and stuff on the walls," he says.
Though saddened by the closing of his first restaurant and Corner landmark, Morse says he's grateful the restaurant lasted as long as it did.
"I’m thankful for twenty-one years, and the support people have given us,” Morse says. “We've given back a lot too."
One of the things Baja's given back is its annual golf tournament to benefit Camp Holiday Trails, a camp for special needs kids, which has raised about $20,000 each year. This year's tournament will be held on June 5.
"I'm very proud of that golf tournament," says Morse.
Meanwhile, as places like Baja Bean and Cafe Europa say goodbye, new places are gearing up to take their place. Although only in the early stages, a partnership between the owners of Boylan Heights and Positively 4th Street on the Downtown Mall will be transforming the Baja space, and the owners of the Balkan Bistro, who vacated their space up the road, plan on opening a new concept in the Café Europa space. So, stay tuned for what's coming to the Corner.