At the same corner, El Castillo Mexican Restaurant, a Tracy culinary mainstay since 1956 and our town’s oldest family-owned restaurant, will soon close its doors, and a new version of Helm’s Ale House will take its place.
Ray and Josephine Morelos, owners and operators of El Castillo for more than half of the restaurant’s 57 years of existence, plan to retire after closing the restaurant as soon as sometime next month.
What will replace El Castillo at the historic corner — once home of Charlie Clark’s Terminal Grill — is close to being finalized.
Dave Helm, who operated Helm’s Ale House at the corner 10th and Central for more than two years, said he is working out details of a lease agreement with the Cose family, which owns the building, to take over the corner location for a restaurant and full bar.
Helm was forced to close his original ale house in October 2011 after the building he rented was ordered vacated because of structural deficiencies and safety issues. It remains empty to this day.
El Castillo was founded in 1956 by Francisco and Paula Cisneroz, parents of Josephine “Josie” Morelos. The parents ended lives as migrant farm workers to settle in Tracy and open the restaurant on Central Avenue
“I was 10 years old when my family opened the restaurant,” Josie said. “I started helping my mother in the kitchen, and that’s when I started learning how to cook.”
She has continued for more than a half-century as El Castillo’s main cook.
The restaurant has offered a variety of Mexican dishes based on the fare of the Cisneroz family’s hometown of Morelia, Mexico.
“One of the dishes that has been a favorite of our customers is chile rellenos,” Ray reported. “We use light Anaheim peppers stuffed with cheese and fried in batter. They have more flavor than chile rellenos made with other varieties of peppers.”
After it was originally located at 623 Central Ave., El Castillo was moved in 1979 to larger quarters at the southeast corner of Ninth Street and Central Avenue.
Then it was located on Grant Line Road for nine years before it returned in 2001 to Tracy’s downtown at Sixth and Central.
“We wanted to get back downtown were we started,” Ray said. “After we took possession of the building, we did extensive remodeling to create a restaurant with 75 seats and a full bar.”
In addition to serving regular customers, El Castillo hosted a number of community organizations and was honored by the Tracy Hispanic Business Group.
Morelos, who served on the City Council, said he plans to stay active in the community.
He was 2012 chairman of the Tracy Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors, served as president of the South Side Community Organization and has been active in the Tracy Hispanic Business Group and the Tracy City Center Association.
A Marine Corps veteran of Vietnam, Morelos is a member of the American Legion and VFW.
Helm said he hoped to be in business at the Sixth and Central location by June 1.
“We will do some minor remodeling, but the location is already well-equipped with a kitchen and bar,” he said. “And there is outdoor seating, a real plus.”
As he did at his original location, he plans to offer an array of craft beers. But the new Helm’s Ale House will also have a full bar to augment a restaurant that will be open for lunch and dinner.
“Within two blocks, there will be five restaurants in the vicinity of the new downtown plaza and restored Grand Theatre,” Helm said. “It will be a great place for our kind of business. I’m anxious to get going as soon as possible.”
• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.