Mexican restaurant Napa Gran Electrica closes due to staffing crisis

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Gran Electrica, an upscale Mexican restaurant in downtown Napa known for its playful atmosphere and original margaritas, announced Friday that it will be closing its doors permanently. The news comes about three months after the restaurant temporarily closed for a long winter break and almost four years to the day after it opened in 2018.

Tamer Hamawi, co-owner of Gran Electrica with his wife Blaire Scheibal, said the challenge of finding staff was ultimately the reason for the closure after a difficult few years due to Covid-19 and wildfires. Restaurant staff were “in a constant state of hemorrhage,” especially over the past year, Hamawi said. Gran Electrica lost two key employees in 2021: opening chef Ignacio Beltran (formerly of Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc and Meadowood restaurant) and longtime general manager Kat Weis, who left to spend more time with her family. Staffing issues also caused the restaurant to halve its menu and stop serving main courses.

“We basically became a taqueria,” Hamawi said. “We had to change our service model and we weren’t able to offer the type of service that we really liked to offer. It worked, we survived, but that was not what we wanted to achieve.

Gran Electrica has assigned its lease to another Napa restaurant, a barbecue called the Q Restaurant and Bar, which will soon vacate its north Napa location and move into the downtown space in the coming months.

Pepino Margarita with Tacos at Gran Electrica in Napa.

John Storey / Special at the Chronicle 2018

Gran Electrica’s Napa location was a sister hub to the restaurant’s original restaurant in Brooklyn, New York, which will remain open. The Wine Country outpost opened its doors with a similar friendly flair to its big city counterpart: there were pink neon signs, colorful tiles and custom wallpaper with Day of the Dead characters. Dead soaked in Napa Valley.

The restaurant served a variety of tacos, like breaded fish tacos a la Negra Modela, and more sophisticated dishes, like duck smothered in pumpkin seed and chili pipián sauce. But it was the margaritas that lured customers late into the night; the 20/20 margarita, for example, used carrot juice to concoct a healthy version of the classic cocktail.

During Covid, Gran Electrica converted its patio planters into picnic beds for safe, Instagram-friendly dining and, in 2021, launched a monthly DJ dance party, called Salty Sundays. The event was so popular that Hamawi plans to continue it as a pop-up or at a new location, allowing a small portion of Gran Electrica to live in Napa.

“We know the Napa community was really excited for us to do them, so we’d like them to continue,” Hamawi said. “We’re always brainstorming and we’re here (in Napa). We own a home here and at this point we are here to stay.

Jess Lander is a staff writer for the San Francisco Chronicle. Email: [email protected]: @jesslander

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