It’s bright and beckoning and back to its former glory, like the 1954 historical beacon on Orange Avenue, lighting up Night & Day Café. The fascinating history starts in 1929 as the Night and Day Market where the current Wells Fargo building stands on Orange Avenue, just down the street from the cafe’s current location. It then moved to 841 Orange Avenue as the D and D Market until it landed in its current location at 847 Orange Avenue in 1954.
Coronado old-timers may remember Paul Zeller, who operated, cooked, and managed the cafe serving up hearty breakfasts, burgers and comfort food. In 1996, Mario Esquer, who worked as a manager for The Brigantine, went into silent partnership with his brother Hector to take over Night & Day Café. At the time, it was open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and was your classic “hole in the wall” diner, frequented by both military and locals after the bars closed. Jody Esquer remembers that the three-egg special and the “garbage omelet” (which is no longer on the menu but is under consideration to be brought back) were very popular menu items in that era.
Current favorites include the Coronado Breakfast Burrito, Mario’s Surf & Turf Burrito, and the giant-sized fluffy pancakes. The hand-shredded crispy hash browns also leave an impression, and Jody shares that when they tried to take them off the menu, customers revolted. They’ve settled on a half-American, half-Mexican inspired menu so that there’s something for everyone. “Many of our recipes have been handed down through the years,” Jody notes. “Back in the day locals used to come and stay for hours to enjoy the endless cups of coffee and fun conversation, and some customers even became employees.”
The neon sign hasn’t fully worked for 25 years, and Jody has been looking for years for someone to repair it. She got quotes of upwards of $16,000, which wasn’t in the budget, or she was told it was not worth repairing and should be taken down. When Jody’s daughter Allie and partner Luis Gallegos began to take over the management of the cafe last September, they also wanted the beloved sign restored, both for its historic value and because it would let people know that they were starting to stay open late again. Eventually they found Ivan Signs & Graphics who gave them a reasonable quote and had the work completed in two weeks.
For the neon illumination debut, friends and family gathered and began snapping pictures on Friday evening, January 25, when the sign lit up once again. Jody said she was overcome with happiness, commenting, “It was always something I wanted, but it took these two hard working kids to pull it off.”
“Every day is a new adventure and many of the customers become friends,” says Allie, who has worked there since she was 15, and has done all the jobs except cooking. They strive to make it a great place for locals, the military, and tourists. “We greet each customer and once they try it, they will come back,” says Luis.
The Café’s hours changed drastically during the pandemic when they shifted to only be open mornings.
“We were happy that locals showed up to support us,” says Allie, and points to people like Elizabeth Nolan who gave out cards for people to have free meals on her tab and John Hall who suggested providing meals for the front-line workers. Currently, their hours are Monday through Thursday 6:30 am to 2 pm, Fridays from 7 am to midnight, and Sundays 7 am to 6 pm. Watch for longer hours in the summer.
Additionally, they now offer private parties after hours for up to 30 people as well. “It has kind of become a thing,” says Allie. They allow people to bring their own music and wine, and sometimes guests even get to cook and “make a dish.” Allie and Luis also run the recently started catering service through EZ Cater, where they have provided food for the Monarch School and other schools and downtown businesses.
Don’t forget to drive by after dark and admire a piece of Coronado’s neon history. Check out their Military Monday, Taco Tuesday, and Happy Hour specials. If you don’t have time to sit at the cozy counter, you can opt for outdoor seating or order online at https://www.coronadondcafe.com/.