A property dispute between the owner of La Taqueria and several of his siblings could force one of San Francisco’s most famous restaurants to relocate. La Taqueria’s founder and owner Miguel Jara never legally inherited title to the 2889 Mission Street property where he’s operated since 1973, several of his siblings claim — a matter he’s still fighting in court. But with a legal judgment made against Jara, a court-appointed receiver has taken control of the 2889 Mission Street property and listed it through a commercial real estate broker.
Proceeds from the sale are to be divided among the siblings, and bids have already been entered — up to a whopping $1.6 million. But before a bidder is approved by the court, Jara hopes to outbid them all, keeping La Taqueria where he feels it belongs: In the heart of the Mission, where other legacy Latino-owned businesses like La Victoria have shuttered or struggled against displacement.
“Miguel is going to bid to stay there, and if he doesn’t, he’ll move to another building and La Taqueria will continue to flourish in San Francisco,” says Jim Quadra, Jara’s lawyer.
In 1972, a 30-year-old Jara convinced his parents to buy what’s now the landmark home of La Taqueria for $39,000. With no credit history, he was unable to take out a loan himself, so they did so on his behalf. After renovating the space, Jara opened La Taqueria to the public in 1973, and over the next 20 years, he paid back the loan his parents took out, along with property taxes from 1972 onward, as court documents show.
Jara and his lawyers claim that the restaurateur’s parents always intended to convey the title of the building to him — but they never did. Both died without leaving a will, his father in 1990 and his mother in 2000.
The beginning of today’s troubles can be traced to 2013, when a lawyer for Jara sought to establish his ownership of the property through a legal action called a “quiet title,” naming Jara’s siblings (who might have disputed that ownership) as defendants. Quadra, Jara’s current lawyer, says that was the wrong legal course of action, and that the original lawyers mishandled the case. They should have sought probate of Jara’s mother’s estate, Quadra says, and established Jara’s ownership through adverse possession. Jara is now suing his previous legal counsel for malpractice.
In response to the 2013 action, six of Jara’s siblings filed a cross complaint, asserting an interest in the 2889 Mission Street property after their mother’s death. In 2014, the court ruled in their favor, declaring that each held an 11 percent interest in the property — with Jara given a 33 percent interest after two siblings took his side and relinquished their stake to him.
The court ordered that the property be divided among the siblings through a sale, a decision that Jara’s original lawyers appealed in 2015. But in 2017, the original opinion was affirmed, and an appeals court granted a motion to appoint a receiver to sell 2889 Mission Street and divide the earnings among the siblings. This year, Quadra filed a motion to vacate that judgment.
In 2018, the court appointed a receiver, who hired a commercial broker to market the property to potential buyers. Bids started coming in this spring — there are at least two — and Quadra says he’s startled at the price the property might fetch. Still, he emphasizes that because Jara owns (at least) 33 percent of the building, he’s more than capable of purchasing it with credit in addition to cash.
Meanwhile, Quadra is still seeking to undo the original judgment. And, while litigation continues, he’s filed a motion to place all proceeds from the building’s sale in a temporary trust (rather than distribute them among the siblings).
Jara has no plans to sell his restaurant, which was honored last year as a James Beard “American Classic,” and he “will not operate La Taqueria on the property if it is sold to a third party,” as he’s communicated to the receiver.
“Miguel is doing everything in his power to continue to service his client base in San Francisco,” says Quadra. “He loves being here.”
Jara, now 77, operates La Taqueria with his sons, and takes a sunny attitude toward the legal situation — as he does towards life.
“I don’t know why, but I think God loves me up there. So many customers come from out of the state, out of the country — Germany, French people. I think we make our city a little bit better, it’s just a small little part.”
Jara is plainly hurt by his siblings’ actions, which he says are motivated by jealousy. The fight has brewed behind the scenes for years, but lately, it’s been distracting. “Mostly when I get up in the morning, sometimes I think about it, and I just can’t believe it, that they could do this.”
This year has been difficult for La Taqueria, which settled a labor lawsuit with former employees for $600,000 this summer. Quadra characterizes the violations as technicalities, and Jara is now suing his former accountant, on whom he blames the errors.
“I always try to bounce back,” says Jara. He’s sold another property to make sure he’s able to bid on 2889 Mission, which he could do as soon as next month. “I have to do whatever I have to do — it’s part of life.