The last white bar in Little Saigon will be closing after 25 years in business after the owner refused to put up a sign that halves the bar's occupancy limit.
John Medel, the 86-year-old owner of Gaynor's Lounge, received a 90-day eviction notice from his landlord, Phil Trinh, after he refused to put up a sign that reduced the bar's capacity from 99 to 49 people.
"They don't have the right to kick me out of here," Medel said. "If I was behind on the rent, or created problems with the center, which we don't, then they have the right to kick me out. Although they own the property, but I mean after 25 years here and [being] one of the good tenants, they just kick you out of here?"
Medel has been the longest tenant at the Mall of Fortune–a shopping center that is made mostly of Vietnamese businesses, including famed Little Saigon restaurant Brodard. He believed it was not his responsibility to place the change in occupancy notice in the front and back of the bar.
After over two decades of operation, Medel sees the bar as a part of the family of businesses in the plaza and ultimately feels discriminated for being asked to leave.
Carmine Cicero, a customer who owns a barber shop in Santa Ana, says the eviction is unjust.
"John has been here for a lot of years, and he's being squeezed out of here for obvious reasons," said Cicero. "He is the only Caucasian in the center. It's not fair because he's been a very credible renter on the property and I think he's being dealt very unfairly. His business is being closed because of their priorities, but this is kind of a landmark regarding bars. And people have been coming here for a lot of years."
Since Medel received his eviction notice, he has also lost access to a storage area for beverages as well as parking and an outside smoking area. Some of the parking was removed to make way for a wall, owned by Trinh. The lounge can no longer offer designated parking spots, according to Medel. Customers who do come to the lounge have no option but to park in the middle of the lot, across the street or blocks away.
Rob McCain, a resident of Orange County for 35 years and longtime customer, said that there should be more notification from the city and property owner if changes are made to the plaza.
"The biggest change is when they come in and do renovation," McCain said. "They start coming in without notification or anything and building and changing and during the times I've been here, I've never seen an inspector from the city. When they blocked off his back doorway and enclose it, you go, 'Wait a minute now.' You can't go around doing things without notification from the city or from the owner. The way the city has been treating him is terrible."
Pauline Birge, a bartender for 5 years, says the largest problem since she started working at the lounge is the limited parking spots.
"One of the biggest things I see happening in the center here is no loading zones," she said. "Everything is red. How can they allow that, with all restaurants and they all need delivery? They'll have to park out there in the middle of the parking lot, or park right here in front and they'll get a ticket. Something is not right."
With the limited parking availability, business owners pay an additional fee to have the lot cleaned daily. But when it comes to cleaning Gaynor's Lounge, Birge added, "Even cleaning the sidewalk, they don't do that. We pay them $200 a month for them to do this and they don't do anything. They clean everything but ours."
What's at stake is a clientele and staff that's ultimately become family. Medel, who will be 87 in March and is known to carry a good tune "all [his] life," will continue to provide service to his customers until he is forced to stop. He hopes to relocate if necessary.
Sandy Huggler, who met Medel when he was in his 60s, has bartended for him for a decade after coming to the bar for 15 years. When the bar is closed, she'll go back to semi-retired life.
"This place used to be a whole lot of fun," Huggler said. "You come in the middle of the afternoon, and you see all kinds of people lined up here. Now, they don't want to fight with the traffic so they go somewhere else, where it's easier to park."