A week after its Jan. 3 grand opening at Los Gatos Village Square, Baja Fresh Mexican Grill is reporting a healthy amount of daily customers eager to check out its new digs at 15466 Los Gatos Blvd., suite 111 and try its Baja California-inspired menu.
The 1,900-square-foot restaurant, owned and operated by India-born engineer Arun Sastry, offers the same menu that has distinguished the fast-food Mexican restaurant chain with its fresh ingredients of onions, tomatoes, jalapeños, peppers and cilantro to make its tasty, chunky pico de gallo salsa, guacamole and seafood dishes.
The new restaurant fits the chain's so-called “guest choice” prototype, which means hungry eaters can customize their choices, explained Sastry.
Guests can select their protein; grilled chicken, steak, shrimp, Wahoo, or lean and slow-roasted pork carnitas. They can also either pick a burrito, taco platter or salad, with the option to “spice it up” or choose a milder roasted tomatillo salsa.
Like other Baja Fresh restaurants, the new Mexican eatery features a salsa bar with six fresh salsas made throughout the day. Entrees served in actual silverware and plastic dishes and cups are then delivered to the customers' tables.
Sastry, a married father of two, said he wants to cater to Los Gatos residents who are health conscious, but still enjoy healthy Mexican food. The restaurant will offer wheat tortillas as an option for carbohydrate-conscious customers.
“We bring two years of experience, running a sister Baja Fresh restaurant in Palo Alto, and I firmly believe that that experience will be an added benefit to the new Los Gatos store,” said the self-described Silicon Valley geek who worked at Cisco for many years.
The Palo Alto Baja Fresh was opened in October of 2009. Sastry said the restaurant is doing well despite being located in a smaller complex than Los Gatos Village Square and anchor Blockbuster closing due to bankruptcy.
His sales have decreased in Palo Alto, but he said he's working to increase his catering orders to events held at Stanford and other businesses to make up the difference. The Palo Alto Baja Fresh averages about 160 customers a day, he said.
Despite the Los Gatos landlord's restrictions on the restaurant's new signage, Sastry said customers have been able to find him. "People still don't know we're there," Sastry said of his need to continue to spread the word about the restaurant's opening. "The first day we had almost 100 people and that's because they shop at , AAA and the pet food store."
The Palo Alto resident said the landlord had agreed to give him half the monument sign at the shopping complex, however, he said the town did not give the permit to do so. He was given, instead, the store front and hallway signage.
Still, he's grateful that the center has a busy anchor store, which he hopes will send him customers. He's also been doing word-of-mouth marketing, going around many town businesses to let them know he's open. "We've been very well received. A lot of people are happy we're there."
The restaurant employs 15 employees at different shifts. They include a full-time general manager; two shift managers, and about a dozen cashiers and cooks. The eatery's hours of operation are 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday.
Sastry said he may try to extend those hours in the summer. "The word is slowly spreading. Today [Tuesday] a lady came to buy two party packs for an office meeting on National Avenue."
Entrees range about $8. A chicken or pork burrito goes for $6.99, plus tax. Shrimp and seafood entrees are more, but chips and salsa are included.
Ingredients used to make the Baja Fresh cuisine are shipped to all Baja Fresh franchisees through US Foods, including the poblano peppers.
About competition he may face from other Mexican restaurants in town including Andale, Una Mas, High Tech Burrito, Taco Bell, two downtown Mexican restaurants and Chipotle Mexican Grill coming to Los Gatos Boulevard and Blossom Hill Road, Sastry said he's trying to appeal to a different niche than they will.
"I don't sell alcohol. There are no cans or microwaves at Baja Fresh. Everything is freshly made. The new concept is between a formal sit-down restaurant and a pick-your-food-at-the-counter restaurant. Customers order food, wait at their tables, and the food is brought to them. We take the dirty dishes away."
Founded in 1990 and headquartered in Irvine, Calif., Baja Fresh operates or franchises 249 restaurants in 26 states as well as Dubai and Singapore.