The longest goodbye: Red Fox Room will now stay open past the holidays

Red Fox patrons, seen here in 2018, enjoy lunch at the restaurant, located on El Cajon Boulevard. It is supposed to close some time in January.
(Eduardo Contreras / The San Diego Union-Tribune)

The El Cajon Boulevard mainstay, now on a month-to-month lease, will be replicated in a new location across the street


The on-again, off-again closure of the Red Fox Steakhouse is on again — but not until January.

The decades-old dining and drinking staple on El Cajon Boulevard had been destined to close earlier this year because its lease was not being renewed, but that got postponed after the restaurant’s landlord decided to put the Red Fox tenant on a month-to-month lease.

More recently, owner Jim Demos was told he needed to vacate by late November, so he began making plans for a Nov. 13 closing and bidding farewell to his longtime employees. But then there was another change in plans. Demos said he got a call a couple of days ago from his landlord, Jay Wentz, that he could now have until the end of January to stay put.

The ownership intends to market the Red Fox space, located within the historic Lafayette Hotel, to a new restaurant tenant, but Demos said Wentz told him it’s unlikely there will be much movement on that during the last few months of the year.

“I was already prepared for this mentally (the November closing), so it didn’t matter that much to me anymore,” said Demos, whose father John purchased the restaurant 53 years ago. “But the employees are very happy about the whole thing because they can now work through the holidays, which is a busy time for us. Normally our best month is December.”

Wentz, of JCG Development, which owns the Lafayette, declined to comment on Thursday.

In order to take advantage of the lease extensions, Demos said he is having to pay about 50 percent more in rent, which is putting him in the red each month. But that’s OK, he said, as long as his employees are getting to continue working.

Restaurant broker Mike Spilky, who has been working with Wentz on finding a new restaurant tenant, said he believes an updated dining venue would not only upgrade the look and ambiance of the space but it would also generate higher rent. The owner would like to get $13,000 to $14,000 a month, including insurance, property taxes and common area maintenance, Spilky said.

The Red Fox’s dimly lighted interior and old timey decor have remained largely unchanged through six decades of business.

“A lot of physical changes could be made by a new restaurant, like raising the ceiling height, taking out stairs, putting in new restrooms,” Spilky said. “And a new restaurant could offer a higher quality dining experience as well as a great bar. The Red Fox is basically a dive bar, making their money on late night drinking business.”

Nonetheless, it’s that retro look and traditional surf and turf menu that Demos hopes to replicate in a new property the Red Fox owns across the street. Demos says he is awaiting city approval of his plans and then can start construction, which should take about four months.

Demos expects it will cost under a million dollars to transform the 3,000-square-foot space his family purchased a couple of years ago into a new restaurant. The same wood paneling, red vinyl booths and aging chandeliers will occupy the relocated Red Fox, Demos promises.

“Whenever you do something like this, people assume everything will change, that it won’t look the same, the prices will go up,” Demo said. “But the menu we have now — I’m going to start with that. And I think we’ll retain a lot of our employees.”