The legendary Noriega Hotel has been a landmark in the Bakersfield community for decades. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the owners said they had no choice but to close their doors for good. Now a new set of owners are taking over the family's niche in Basque cuisine.
Noriega's is a hotel and restaurant that was built off a Basque family tradition more than 80 years ago.
“You know they didn’t want to do this and they are going to miss the people. There were a lot of people that came here regularly and they became like family so Rochelle and Linda are going to miss them and they are sorry that they won’t be able to come here anymore. It's a heartbreak,” said Mike Ladd, a family member of the original owners.
Rochelle Ladd and her sister Linda Elizalde-McCoy are the current owners of the Noriega Hotel.
Ladd said the building started out as a former boarding house founded by Basque ex-pats in 1893. However, in 1931 his wife’s family, the Elizalde, took over the hotel and restaurant.
In 2011, the restaurant would be named "An American Classic" by the James Beard Foundation. It became a staple in the Bakersfield community and a go-to stop for locals and visitors looking for an authentic taste of family-style Basque cuisine.
According to Ladd, their family-style dining experience was ultimately shut down by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So the family-style is dead at least until, if and when they ever get a vaccine which I don’t think they will,” he said. “You can’t put 120 people in there anymore. So you just can’t make enough money to cover the cost.”
Ladd said that since 1968 Noriega's has been a large part of his life and over the course of the last few years he said he also worked as the go-to handyman for his wife’s family restaurant.
However, he said his family had no choice but to close when they were hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic in April of this year. A decision he said was heart-wrenching,
“It’s kind of a home away from home. My kids grew up here, my grandkids grew up here.”
Noreiga's is now a cherished memory for the Elizalde family owners and loyal customers in the Bakersfield community.
“Every birthday, every celebration we would come here. Every Sunday night when I was growing up we would come here... and all the bosses... all the men would sing after dinner” exclaimed longtime loyal and valued customer Simona Othart Rhoten.
The Elizalde family sold the Noriega name along with everything they owned inside the building to a local Thai family in Bakersfield who also owns the Happy Wings restaurant. The new owners sat down with the old owners Friday, vowing to do their best to keep the Noriega's style dining experience alive.
The new owners said they are also hoping to hire the original Noriega's chef to help uphold the historical name and carry on the Basque legacy.
“We hope they keep the name going and are successful at it but you just don’t know,” Ladd said.
The new owners said they plan to relocate the Noriega restaurant but they would not say where. However, they said they are committed to carrying on the family-style Basque tradition here Bakersfield.