El Place, the queer pizzeria in Boyle Heights formerly known as Noa Noa Place, will close this weekend.
The space opened Dec. 5, 2020, and was named after “El Noa Noa,” an anthem for the queer Latinx community from Juan Gabriel, the iconic Mexican singer. In August, the named was changed to El Place.
“We created so much noise, we had to change our name,” said Luis Octavio, one of El Place’s three owners.
El Place is the only queer Latinx business in the East Los Angeles city and served a vital need as a safe space and gathering place for the community.
El Place’s three owners (Luis Octavio, co-founder of the Latino community marketplace Molcajete Dominguero; Deysi Serrano, owner of Milpa Grill, and Spanish radio host Donaji Esparza) made the closing announcement on Instagram Tuesday.
Sunday is the last day the pizzeria will be open to the public.
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Deciding to close
In an interview with Q Voice News, Octavio, who identifies as queer, said the closing is “bittersweet.”
The three entrepreneurs took over the lease of the previous tenant, a sports bar, but when it ended, they had to negotiate a new lease with the property owner, who wanted to raise the rent, Octavio said.
Octavio and his business partners had invested $40,000 in various maintenance repairs and upgrades to the old building. Considering the building’s age, El Place’s owners anticipated additional maintenance costs in the near future, Octavio said.
Also, as COVID-19 restrictions have been lifted, clubs, concerts, and other entertainment and nightlife venues have re-opened. That means El Place customers who frequented the space as an entertainment hub have reduced their patronage and returned to nightclubs and live music locations.
El Place’s size prevented any possibility of expanding.
“At the end of the day, we are not a club. We are a pizzeria,” Octavio said. “We couldn’t grow.”
Unless the property owners would negotiate on the rent, the El Place owners predicted they would go into debt.
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After six weeks of trying to negotiate with the property owner, Octavio and his business partners decided to close.
“We were between a rock and a hard place. We don’t want to be in debt,” Octavio said. “We didn’t want to stay at a place that was not willing to work with us.”
But Octavio sees a silver lining. The business partners always had bigger and better plans for El Place.
“We are sad, but we are super excited about what the future will bring,” he said. “It’s better to step. We could close the doors here, and grow it somewhere else.
“It’s a perfect moment to go on the path to a bigger, better venue, a club and concert venue,” Octavio said.
The El Place partners are in negotiations with a live music venue in the Los Angeles area for a monthly El Place night. The space has a capacity between 500 and 600 people, state-of-the-art lighting and sound, Octavio said.
“It would be a full on queer Latinx experince with drag queens, go-go boys, and a DJ,” he said.
Negotiations are close to being finalized, with hopes for a January opening.
They also want to have a second El Place space in Orange County, Octavio said.
He said the El Place story is far from over.
“It’s the end of chapter one,” Octavio said. “This book has a lot of fucking chapters.”