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Thursday, Jun 13, 2024

HAPPY 100TH

It might have seemed like an overwhelming task when veteran L.A. public relations specialist Dan Harary got a gig to publicize a local Mexican restaurant’s 100th anniversary this year.

After all, the restaurant, El Cholo, is in a crowded culinary class; Mexican eateries have long populated Los Angeles. What’s more, this year is also marks the 100th anniversary for such local icons as the Hollywood sign, the Los Angeles Coliseum, The Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. Studios., and one restaurant would be easy for the press to overlook.

Yet Harary has gotten his client on local television, and he even scored a coup by getting a story in the New York Times – a holy grail for publicists.

So how did he do it?

Harary said he started with research. Shortly after signing El Cholo as a client in September, he spent six weeks reviewing old articles, menus, photos, scrapbooks and handwritten notes that celebrities had written over the years.

“When you get a 100-year anniversary it is PR gold, because media are going to be interested in that,” Harary said.

For the past several months, even before reaching the centennial year, journalists of all sorts from radio and television outlets and print publications, plus podcasters and bloggers, have been paying visits to El Cholo’s flagship location at Western Avenue and 11th Street near Koreatown.

“I am doing everything from the New York Times to Joe Blow’s food blog from Culver City, because there is a lot of interest from media, large and small, on such an iconic milestone and such a beloved venue,” Harary said.

Dan Harary does PR for El Cholo. Here he is sitting at the Nacho Table where diners get free nachos because it is the "worst table" at the location on Western Ave. in Los Angeles, CA. January 24th, 2023. Photo by David Sprague
Dan Harary in El Cholo’s flagship location.

Although he has been going to El Cholo for 30 years and had his 60th birthday party there in 2016, Harary was unaware of some things about the chain.

He didn’t know, for example, that it was family owned and operated from day one and that it had introduced nachos to Southern California, he said.

“I didn’t know that Jack Nicholson said it was his favorite place to go in the 1950s and 1960s before he was famous,” Harary said.

Founded in 1923 by Alejandro and Rosa Borquez, El Cholo has grown from a single location on Western Avenue at 11th Street to five others throughout Southern California, including La Habra, Corona del Mar, Anaheim Hills, Santa Monica and downtown L.A. And for its anniversary year, the chain will expand into Salt Lake City, Utah.

The El Cholo organization is especially excited that the city is renaming the intersection of Western Avenue and 11th Street Alejandro and Rosa Borquez Square.

The change will take place in late March and will include the ceremonial unveiling of a sign, Harary said, adding that he is planning a “TV-centric” media event for the unveiling followed by lunch for media members covering the event.

El Cholo has been on Western Avenue since 1923.

In May, to celebrate Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant will host media members that day to come and interview diners. After all, in what other place would you want to spend the day than one of the oldest Mexican restaurants in Los Angeles, Harary said.

“I am hoping to get a live radio broadcast that day from the restaurant,” he added.

Come fall, Harary is hoping to arrange a joint event with the Hollywood Sign Trust and have El Cholo cater it, he continued.

Then in October will come the big anniversary party, complete with a red carpet and klieg lights out in front of El Cholo “as though it were a Hollywood premiere,” Harary added.

His idea, which everyone loves, he said, is to invite Hollywood celebrities who are 85 years old and older to the party. That would include Clint Eastwood, Dick Van Dyke, Mel Brooks, William Shatner, Bob Newhart, Norman Lear and Buzz Aldrin, Harary said.

“We are hoping to have as many of those people come and be our guests for the 100th party,” he said. “I think it would be remarkable if that happens.”

No other restaurant in the area turns 100 during the calendar year, at least that Harary is aware of, “so we have that to ourselves.”

The Tam O’Shanter in Los Feliz turned 100 years old last year, and Musso & Frank Grill in Hollywood hit the milestone in 2019. The Original Pantry Café in downtown reaches the mark next year. Other eateries with at least 100 years under their belts include Cole’s and Philippe The Original, both in downtown, and Big Dean’s Ocean Front Café in Santa Monica.

At El Cholo, the emphasis has always been on trying to collect stories, said Ron Salisbury, the owner of the small Mexican chain and grandson of its founders.

As it celebrates its 100th anniversary this year El Cholo’s theme, said Salisbury, will be that the eatery has been creating memories for 100 years, not merely serving the public for those 10 decades.

This is exemplified by the correspondence that Salisbury received from people who had read the recent New York Times article on El Cholo and wanted to share what the restaurant has meant to them.

“We’ve enjoyed helping them create memories and they seem to gravitate toward us and seem to find the environment that helps them to embrace the memories,” Salisbury said. “We are able to do that, and the Hollywood sign can’t.”

El Cholo is owned by Salisbury’s company, the Restaurant Business Inc. He also owns two other restaurants – The Cannery and Louie’s by the Bay – both in Newport Beach.

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Mark R. Madler Author