PR landmark to close after 110 years
The popular eatery on San Francisco Street opened in 1902, taking up the ground floors of two buildings — one side owned by La Bombonera that houses its dining room and bakery, and a rented side that includes the kitchen, bathrooms and warehouse.
The partial closure, scheduled for next Monday, reportedly stems from the decision by the owner of the rental property to sell the building that houses the kitchen and bathrooms.
La Bombonera manager and co-owner José López said the plan is to keep the bakery open for carry-out service.
The fate of some 40 employees, including some who have worked at the restaurant for more than 60 years, remains unclear.
Reports that the iconic eatery would close prompted customers to flock to the restaurant to check on its status. Government and private sector officials, meanwhile, sprang into action to discuss ways to keep the landmark open.
Secretary of State Kenneth McClintock led a delegation including Puerto Rico Tourism Co. Executive Director Luis Rivera Marín, Economic Development Bank President Ivonne Otero, Restaurant Association chief Humberto Roviro and a Banco Popular official to La Bombonera after the lunch hour.
“This is an iconic business in Old San Juan that people care deeply about. We are here in the name of Gov. Luis Fortuño to meet with La Bombonera management to see if there is more that the government can do to help them keep operating,” McClintock said.
The iconic establishment, which draws artists, intellectuals, business people and neighbors of all stripes, has been written up in newspapers from around the world and is a staple in travel guides on the island.
From the New York Times: “The place that turns the corner from 19th to 20th century is the family-run bakery and coffee shop La Bombonera, founded in 1902. The counter is long and the booths are many, but we still had to get there as early as we could to avoid waiting in line. We ordered mallorca con mantequilla (a round, flat pastry dusted with confectioner's sugar and served with butter), café con leche and fresh orange juice. All around us locals were trading gossip and eating their breakfasts more slowly than we were. We marveled at the mallorcas when they arrived, and ordered another round.”
From Frommer’s travel guide: “This place offers exceptional value in its homemade pastries, well-stuffed sandwiches, and endless cups of coffee ― and it has done so since 1902. Its atmosphere evokes turn-of-the-20th-century Castille transplanted to the New World. The food is authentically Puerto Rican, homemade, and inexpensive, with regional dishes such as rice with squid, roast leg of pork, and seafood asopao (a thick rice soup). For dessert, you might select an apple, pineapple, or prune pie, or one of many types of flan. Service is polite, if a bit rushed, and the place fills up quickly at lunchtime.”
La Bombonera is considered the third-oldest restaurant in Old San Juan behind Café Turull (1816) and La Mallorquina (1848), both of which have also closed.
It has been a tough year for long-established eateries in Old San Juan, with La Mallorquina, María’s and Barú also closing in recent months.