NEW LOOK AND OWNER BUT OLD LOYALTIES.
``We passed city inspection at 2:30 p.m. and reopened for business at 4 p.m. There was already a line outside.''
- Ping Lee, new owner of Sabroso Mexican Restaurant in Canoga Park.
Here's the thing about loyalty: It travels fast.
Word hit the street around 3 p.m. June 1 that Sabroso's was opening for business after a three-month closure for remodeling.
Twenty minutes later the line to get inside stretched down Vanowen to Corbin Avenue.
Ping Lee, who bought the Mexican restaurant earlier this year from Jorge Schneider's widow, Graciela, knew the place had loyal customers after 36 years in the same location - but this was beyond anything he had dreamed of.
``I was surprised by the loyalty of all these people, many of them whom had been eating here since they were kids,'' Lee said.
Alfredo Gonzales, the restaurant's first and only cook in 36 years, had barely fired up the ovens when customers were knocking on the door.
``What can I tell you,'' Ed Broda said Wednesday morning between bites of his huevos rancheros. ``We missed the place.''
Joe Gurrola, who's been eating at Sabroso's since the Schneiders - an Argentinian couple - opened its doors in 1968, kidded Lee about keeping his promise and not adding Chinese food to the menu.
``I told him to go ahead if he wanted, but he said nothing was going to change,'' Joe said.
``Nothing except this,'' Joe said while looking at the new, colorful murals covering the restaurant's walls. ``They're beautiful.''
Yeah, they are. Half an hour after the city inspector had signed off on Sabroso's remodeling, muralist Alfredo Flores was putting the finishing touches on a half-dozen scenes depicting old Mexico.
Flores has spent most of his 80 years traveling throughout Los Angeles, bringing beauty to hundreds of walls that needed a story to be told.
School walls, public and private building walls, graffiti-covered alley walls, and restaurant walls.
``My main objective was to bring in art that would touch different people in different ways,'' Flores said Wednesday, standing in front of a mural depicting two fishermen casting butterfly nets on Lake Pabzcuaro in Michoacan, Mexico.
Rolando Castillo, who has managed this restaurant for the last 16 years - first for an Argentinian couple, and now a Chinese couple - said the murals have touched him.
``This week since we reopened has been the best week for business we've ever had,'' Castillo said. ``Old customers are coming back, and new customers are coming in to see these beautiful murals.''
In a telephone interview from her retirement home in San Diego, Graciela Schneider said Wednesday that she is happy her late husband's restaurant is open again and doing great.
``I had many people want to buy it after he died last year, but I chose the Lees because they promised to keep all the employees, and keep the recipes the same,'' she said.
``That was always important to my husband. Loyalty to his staff and customers.''
It still is at Sabroso's.
Dennis McCarthy, (818) 713-3749
Muralist Alfredo Flores, left, decorated the walls of the renovated Sabroso Mexican Restaurant in Canoga Park. The restaurant has been purchased by Ping Lee, right.
Tina Burch/Staff Photographer