Closed Restaurant Todai Gets New Coat of Paint

The City of San Diego issued a $1,000 graffiti citation to the owner of the once-popular Todai restaurant in Mission Valley

Painters began covering the graffiti Wednesday that defaced a large, closed restaurant along Interstate 8 in San Diego's Mission Valley area and created an eyesore for commuters.

Workers painted over the many "tags" that marred the entire back wall of the old Todai all-you-can-eat seafood and sushi restaurant on Camino del Rio South, adjacent to eastbound I-8.

As the crews were cleaning up Wednesday, two women who work nearby stopped by to see the progress.

Tiffany Lewis called the building's condition “horrible and embarrassing."

Lewis said the way the restaurant appeared created a bad impression of San Diego for tourists and others traveling on the popular nearby highway.

“It was always a nice property before," her colleague Karen Jackson agreed. "And it was a shame to see it deteriorate like that."

Graffiti had been visible to tens of thousands of motorists on I-8 and I-805 off ramps.

The City of San Diego issued a $1,000 graffiti citation to the property owner on May 20.

A co-owner of the company that now owns the building promised that other problems with the property, including trash, weeds, and an abandoned mattress and box spring, will be cleaned up by early next week.

James Lo, whose company owns the Asia Wok and China Super Buffet restaurants in San Diego, told NBC 7 that the old Todai restaurant will be transformed into what he described as an “international buffet”.

Lo said he and his partner have not yet decided on a name for their new venture. He said the restaurant building needs extensive renovation, and will hopefully open early next year.

The property is in a unusual spot for a restaurant, on Camino del Rio South, between Texas Street and Fairmount Boulevard, in an area of commercial buildings. It’s easy to see, but can be hard to find, even for locals, much less tourists.

The back parking lot is literally just a few yards from the right hand lane of busy eastbound I-8, and sits underneath Interstate 805, where it crosses the I-8.

But the Lehr family made a success of it in 1977, after they secured a long-term lease for the property, from the state of California.

Dean Lehr, then a student at San Diego State, build the original building, which was an actual greenhouse. He called it “Lehr’s Greenhouse Restaurant and Florist,” and it opened to customers on New Year’s Eve, 1980.

“The Greenhouse” as it was known, was a popular hang-out until it closed in 1987.

Lehr told NBC 7 he then leased the building to a succession of other businesses, including Tijuana Tilly’s restaurant, the Banx nightclub, and in the late 1990’s, Todai.

County property records confirm that Lehr sold the lease and the building to the new owners, L&W USA Property, LLC, in March.

Lehr told NBC 7 that, even though he has no financial or legal interest in the property, and is not responsible for the problems that now plague the property, he’s still very upset to see the building and grounds in such disrepair.

“My family took great pride in Lehr’s Greenhouse Restaurant in San Diego for many years,” he said. “It is sad to see the condition of the property today. We anticipate the new owners opening a fabulous new business that San Diego can be proud of once again," he said.

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