Santa Clara

Popular Santa Clara Restaurant to Close Its Doors

NBC Universal, Inc.

After 17 years, the owner of El Camino Mongolian BBQ in Santa Clara says he is closing his popular restaurant.

Dozens of people lined up for one last taste of Mongolian BBQ Sunday and to say goodbye to owner John Seo, the man who turned the small restaurant into a cult favorite.

Crowds came from different parts of the Bay Area.

Sandra Chow told NBC Bay Area that she drove all the way down from Daly City to eat at the restaurant one more time.

“It has that homey vibe and my kids love eating here. But we will really be missing owners,” she said.

Seo, 61, who was an engineer from South Korea said that he knew nothing about the restaurant business when he first took over 17 years ago.

The restaurant has been there since 1993 and Seo is the third person to own it. Seo posted a photo of his first customers and it quickly developed a dedicated following not just with adults, but with children too.

10- year-old Asa Aceves said he learned to like veggies after coming to the restaurant.

“I’m not good with veggies but this place is so good,” he said.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed everything, forcing the restaurant to close for nearly a year and when it did reopen, business was down 30%.

“Labor costs increased and purchasing price increased. I couldn’t increase my food price,” Seo said.

Seo and his wife Sunny said they will close the restaurant on Dec. 15. Because he has no green card, Seo said that he will also need to leave the country.

After he closes the restaurant, Seo plans to move back to South Korea and volunteer there. But he hopes someone will continue the restaurant's legacy by taking over his recipes and keeping the doors open.

“I’m so sorry, I can’t survive. I will miss the restaurant and the customers,” he said.

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