What Really Happened To J. Lo's California Restaurant, Madre's?

Owning a restaurant seems to be a rite of passage for Hollywood's elite. Rapper Ludacris owns a southern-inspired eatery called Chicken + Beer in the Atlanta airport. Hugh Jackman co-created the Laughing Man Coffee shops in New York City. Donnie and Mark Wahlberg are, of course, the owners of the burger joint Wahlburger. Even rapper Eminem entered the game, recently opening Mom's Spaghetti in Detroit (via Eminem's website). 

Singer Jennifer Lopez also had a foray into the restaurant biz, opening her own eatery, Madre's, in Pasadena, California. Billed as a Latin restaurant, Madre's opened in 2002. Irene Virbila, then a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times, was quite disenchanted with the experience at the eatery, criticizing its location on a "dark side street" and the difficult reservation system "It can be torture to get a reservation," Virbila wrote. Unfortunately, these small details seemed to be just the beginning of the problems at Madre's.

A reviewer called the food at Madre's 'inedible'

Although the sign outside advertised "Latin Cuisine," Los Angeles Times contributor Irene Virbila claimed that the cuisine at J. Lo's restaurant was mostly Cuban. While the reviewer had nice things to say about the dining room decor – "the room has a festive, romantic feel and a flea market chic" – she was less generous when it came to the service, and of course, the most important thing about a restaurant, the food, which she called "the major shortcoming." She noted that while the tostones were "delicious," she also called some of the entrees "close to inedible," such as the ropa vieja, arroz con pollo, and roasted Cornish game hen. She remarked that it seemed as if people only continued to flock to the restaurant because Jennifer Lopez was involved.  

And while the food and service may have been center stage when it came to the restaurant's issues, behind the scenes, things might not have looked so good either, as J. Lo's own business ethics were later called into question by a lawsuit (via CBS News). Protesters would also create an unflattering scene of their own (per Female First).

Drama at Madre's

While all eyes might now be on the second coming of Bennifer, J. Lo has had a number of other serious relationships, including a marriage to a waiter named Ojani Noa, whom she wed in 1997 and divorced just a year later. In an interesting twist of events, Noa landed himself a job as a manager at Madre's in 2002 but lost the position six months later. Supposedly, Lopez said that unless there was "good cause or reason," he wouldn't get fired (via MTV). However, Noa alleged in a lawsuit that he didn't receive an explanation for his termination. 

According to CBS News, the case was settled, leaving Noa $125,000 richer, but with the provision that he could never speak out publicly in a negative manner about his relationship with Lopez, a promise that proved sticky when he tried to publish a tell-all book a few years later. (A judge ordered him to pay J. Lo $545,000 for breach of contract.)

The singer's ex-husband turned ex-manager wasn't the only person who had a bone to pick. PETA supporters took to the sidewalks outside Madre's in 2005 to protest Lopez's fashion line SWEETFACE, which contained several items of fur, after the organization tried to contact the actress and music mogul without success. The goal of the protests, according to a PETA spokesperson, was to urge J. Lo to "stop supporting the horrific abuse of animals killed for their fur" (via Female First).

J. Lo's restaurant Madre's closed in 2008

And so the majesty and fanfare that came with yet another celebrity restaurant opening fizzled as the problems piled one on top of the next at Madre's. One Yelp reviewer gave the restaurant one star simply because they didn't get food poisoning, sharing that they would never return. In 2002, Los Angeles Times reviewer Irene Virbila found the service lacking and suggested it would lead to the eatery's overall decline. "Nobody seems to be in charge at Madre's. The staff sometimes acts as if they wonder what you're doing there. Yet people just keep coming, drawn by the J. Lo connection. Eventually, they won't," wrote the critic.

And eventually, people couldn't keep coming even if they wanted to. Eater reported that the restaurant closed in the summer of 2008, but not without pointing out that despite all its problems, Madre's was, at least for a time, a success: 'Madre's lasted much longer than anyone, even J. Lo herself, anticipated.'