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Family's livelihood swept away by eminent domain - Bonsall restaurant forced to close due to SR76 widening

Estrella’s Family Restaurant had a packed parking lot and a line out the door on Saturday, May 29 as Bonsall and Fallbrook patrons came to say goodbye to one of their favorite restaurants.

Estrella’s, which has been located in a commercial center at the intersection of Olive Hill Road /Camino Del Rey and SR76 since 2002, has been forced to close under eminent domain. Eminent domain is an action the state can take to seize private property with monetary compensation, but without the owner’s consent, for public use. In this case, the property is being seized to accommodate widening of the state route which will require the area in which Estrella’s, a tattoo parlor, and liquor store are currently located.

In order to thank their loyal patrons, the Estrella family was present in full force to serve their guests a final meal and say ‘good-bye’ to friends they had made over the years through the business.

“This restaurant has given me so much,” said Imelda Estrella, the owner of the restaurant. She and her husband, Romero, have been successfully running the restaurant with the help of their children and 13 other family members, in-laws, and cousins.

“When our family heard about the restaurant going up for sale in 2002, we were excited. My sister and I created the restaurant’s menu when I was 13,” said Carlos Estrella, the business manager of Estrella’s. “We even named plates after my dad and other family members. We had always believed in my mom’s cooking, and never thought we would get to this point. It has been a really hard couple of weeks.”

According to Carlos, who has served as bartender and a bus person in the restaurant, the family has been looking for a new location to reestablish the business, but has not been successful in finding a suitable spot.

In December 2009, the family was informed by Caltrans that they would have to evacuate their business for the expansion and improvements to SR76, and was offered compensation for their business.

However, the family says they need more money for their furniture, fixtures, equipment, and the loss they will suffer in relocating their business. According to the family’s attorney, Dan Detischa, the family is involved in a legal action against Caltrans over the payment amount pertaining to the eminent domain matter.

The Estrella family and their employees are sad to leave the restaurant’s location.

“I was pregnant with my daughter while working here, and after she was born, she would sleep in the back while I worked,” said one waitress. “As she got bigger, she’s helped us clear tables.”

Although live mariachi music and laughter echoed into the night last Saturday, it was obvious that the mood had a bittersweet twinge. Family members, friends and patrons stood together, posing for pictures while waiting for their food to arrive, and everyone had nothing but kind words for the Estrella family.

“A lot of our patrons are Bonsall locals, and they’ve told us they are sad to see us go,” said Carlos. “We want to let our patrons know that we are not closing up; we are looking for a new place and hope to open up within 10 miles of our last location. We are just starting over.”

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