Less than 7 months under new ownership, Mission Promenade ready to welcome two new restaurants
In that time, he has opened Krazy Js, the Carnaval Nightclub, and Big Ds — all three establishments are located in the core of the historic neighborhood. Peña said he’s spent between $18 million and $20 million to date, scooping up properties, becoming the largest downtown employer in the evening and late hours.
And now Peña, 44, is taking on his biggest project yet, a rejuvenation of the long-troubled Mission Promenade, a three-story mixed-use building on the northwest corner of Mission Boulevard and Garey Avenue.
“I’ve always thought it was an amazing investment, I just never thought it was going to go for sale,” Peña said last week, as crews put on the finishing touches to an outdoor patio. “Not just because I own it now, but I personally believe it’s the best location in the city.”
Since purchasing the property in August for $5.75 million, Peña has been busy signing long-term leases with existing tenants, bringing in new ones, and even opening two new restaurants: El Jefe and Señor Sushi. The restaurants will have separate interior spaces but a shared patio, which features a 300-year-old aak tree as the focal point.
El Jefe, a 6,500-square-foot indoor and outdoor modern Mexican restaurant opens Wednesday, with a grand opening set April 25.
“Knowing that this corner was available,” Peña said, referring to the former Sakura Ichi spot, “I wanted to bring something that I knew was needed in Pomona, because of the look and the location. There are a lot many amazing restaurants in Pomona, but I wanted to bring a landmark to Pomona. To make El Jefe and Señr Sushi into landmarks that 10 to 15 years from now is a place to be at.”
Built in the early 2000s, the Mission Promenade was a project of a private developer with financial assistance from the city’s now-defunct redevelopment agency.
Things were so bad that the city referred to the property as “distressed asset” as late as last year because the building was 50% vacant and 50% of the first and second floors needed tenant improvements.
On top of that, the second phase of the project, a parking structure, was never completed, which means it will be harder for the owner to attract leases from national companies, Kirk Pelser, deputy city manager, said last year.
As for the occupancy rate, Peña said it’s now at 85%.
Larry Egan, executive director of the Downtown Pomona Owners Association, said Peña solved the parking problem in part by purchasing 18 spots from the parking district, so that his employees can park offsite, freeing more spaces for customers.
“It needed more than an absentee owner,” Egan said, referring to the Promenade. “He’s got his own sweat and blood, working very hard to succeed and succeed correctly.”
Peña has not only come up with the design of the restaurants, he’s also had a hand in the menu for El Jefe.
The interior of El Jefe features a bar with a retractable wall that opens up to the outdoor patio, dark hardwood flooring and ornate blue and white tile accent walls. A stickler for detail, Peña even added a ring light in mirrors of the women’s restrooms so they can touch up their makeup — or take a selfie.
Initially, he was going to call the modern Mexican restaurant Mission Oak, for the tree on the property. After talking to friends and acquaintances, he pivoted.
“This has been a dream of mine. The name of my company when I was kid was called Boss Entertainment, and in Spanish boss means ‘El Jefe’. A dream of mine was to one day open up a bar or lounge called ‘El Jefe.’ Even though I’ve opened up restaurant and bars, I’ve never used that name,” he said.
El Jefe’s menu will be split into three categories: traditional, modern dishes and vegetarian and have a price point that compares to other restaurants.
“I don’t want us to be known as the place that’s expensive,” Peña said. “But the younger generation also goes to a restaurant for the ambiance, they want something that’s more trendy and modern.”
Señor Sushi, which will be about 3,000 square feet, is aiming for a soft opening next week and a grand opening May 2. Last week, Peña and his crew were still deciding the menu, but he said it will bring original Japanese and Korean sushi to a mariscos setting, meaning the sushi and sashimi rolls will have a Latin flavor.
While he’s also bought properties in Pomona and relocated the operations of his own company, JP Management Group, from Pasadena into a Main Street building he purchased, his love affair with the city started when he was in his teens.
Peña grew up in Pasadena and started out by promoting house parties at the age of 15. He then became a nightclub promoter, at one point working with Perry Tollett, co-founder of Coachella, of Downtown Pomona events.
“I had a chance to know the community, and then I fell in love,” Peña said.