The Don Cucos restaurant on Brand Blvd.

The Don Cucos restaurant on Brand Blvd. in Glendale on Thursday, August 4, 2011, with notices on the door that it is closed. (Tim Berger/Staff Photographer)

Don Cuco, a well-known Mexican restaurant on Brand Boulevard adjacent to the Alex Theatre, has closed for good, taking many people by surprise.

Owner Blanca Salazar said she made the decision to close the restaurant, located at 214 N. Brand Blvd., after a dwindling lunch crowd, parking issues and a spike in corn prices became too much in the end.

The prominent Mexican restaurant had been losing $20,000 to $30,000 a month, she added.

“I could not cover my overhead,” she said.

The last straw came when city fire and county health officials asked that she make interior upgrades, such as replacing ceiling tiles over the bar service area.

With the restaurant’s financial picture growing more dim, she made the abrupt decision to close. The last day of business was July 24.

The softening business climate in downtown Glendale cut into her lunchtime revenues, Salazar said.

The installation of electronic, multi-space parking meters along Brand Boulevard and a general lack of parking, she said, also hurt her business. Patrons were getting tickets, Salazar said, and they didn’t want to park far away.

Her employees were also having difficulty finding parking, she said.

City Councilman Ara Najarian said, however, that the metered parking has been “enormously successful” for businesses along Brand because their employees used to park unchecked in spaces meant for customers.

But in addition to the parking issues, Salazar said the price of corn jumped 30% to 40% in the past several months — a major hit to her bottom line since she normally offered complimentary tortilla chips.

She had also started offering free bean dip after 4 p.m. on weeknights in an effort to bring in more customers, but the promotion was proving to be too expensive.

The other four area Don Cuco restaurants, owned by Salazar’s ex-husband, Augusto, remain open. The Salazars divvied up the restaurants when they divorced five years ago, with Blanca taking the Glendale restaurant and Augusto overseeing the other four sites.

Many people in the community were surprised by Don Cuco’s sudden closure.

The restaurant had just participated in Cruise Night and seemed fine, said Philip Lanzafame, chief assistant director of community development for Glendale.

“I was not aware that they were planning to close,” he said.

Barry McComb, chief executive of Glendale Arts, the nonprofit that operates the Alex Theatre, initially thought the neighboring restaurant was closed for just one day when he didn’t see any tables and chairs on the outdoor patio July 25.

When the restaurant was still dark the next day, he realized it had closed.

“It’s going to leave a hole in the mix of restaurants along Brand Boulevard,” McComb said. “We have a lot of repeat promoters and a lot of their patrons enjoy going to Don Cuco before or after a show. We hope whoever goes in there is as hospitable to our patrons as Don Cuco was.”

Because the site has a kitchen, another restaurant would be a logical choice, Lanzafame said.

He was confident the city would be able to solicit a new restaurant fairly quickly.

“We will be reaching out to the different restaurants that have indicated an interest in Glendale — and that we think will be a good fit — and making them aware that that space is available,” Lanzafame said.