FLORENCE — One of the Shoals’ landmark restaurants is now just a memory.
The LaFonda Mexicana restaurant building on Florence Boulevard is being demolished to make way for a new business.
LaFonda opened in 1980 after the owner, George Castell, chose to remain in the Shoals instead of moving out of state with the company he was working for at the time. Castell died almost two years ago.
The property was sold recently by Castell’s children, who initially carried on with the business but found they were being swept under by the Great Recession.
“It was one of things where dad had passed away, the economy had not been good for restaurants, my wife is retiring and our children will be getting out of school next year,” said Jorge Castell, George Castell’s son. “We hoped the business would pick up, but it is tough right now for a lot of people. It is time to do something else.”
George Castell was working as a plant supervisor in Muscle Shoals when the company’s owners decided to close it and move out of state, Jorge Castell said. George wanted to stay in the community, so he and his wife, Delores, decided to open the restaurant. He had not worked in restaurants, but his wife had, Jorge said.
They originally opened LaFonda in the former Singleton’s Barbecue building near the corner of Florence Boulevard and Darby Drive. It was a success, and in 1995, they bought the former Howard Johnson restaurant building across the street, which was more spacious, Jorge Castell said.
The banquet room in the back of the restaurant became a training ground for many of the new crop of Muscle Shoals music stars, including Jason Isbell, Angela Hacker — who won a Nashville Idol-type competition — and the Secret Sisters. Bo Bice, a successful “American Idol” competitor, also performed there. They would sit in with house band Iguana Party, which was fronted by Barry Billings. Castell said Billings brought Marie Osmond there once to perform.
“People say that was part of Muscle Shoals music history because a lot of people would not have gone as far in the business if they had not had a place to play,” Castell said. “I feel we contributed to the music business of the area.”
Castell declined to identify the property buyer, but he said he was told the property will be leased to a Car Mart dealership.
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