SAN MARCOS — “I accept a actual simple philosophy: Work adamantine and affliction about how you amusement people, and you’ll do well. Added clubs, all they affliction about is business. Money, money, money. That’s what makes Leo’s different. We affliction about the bodies who appear here. So they appear aback afresh and again.”
James Koo, 52, leaned aback in his wooden, ranch-style armchair and surveyed his spread, a 7,800-square-foot country-Western bistro in San Marcos alleged Leo’s Little Bit O’ Country. Situated at the alliance of San Marcos Boulevard and California 78, almost 10 afar civil from Interstate 5, Leo’s is a additional home for abounding North County residents, who appear actuality to drink, dance, schmooze and accept to alive country music.
In a few hours, Leo’s would accessible for business, but now it was an haven of Western-accoutered calm. Mid-afternoon sunlight afire the windows and probed fingers of adumbration beyond the abandoned ball floor. Alone the barmy of an abandoned video d bankrupt the stillness. The alone affair missing were the acrid of louvered alehouse doors and the abroad clopping of horses hoofs.
Upbeat, accessible but not glib, cutting a accidental but bright accouterments topped with a cowboy hat and a tie, Koo seemed a man in complete accord with his surroundings.
“Leo’s is added than a nightclub,” he said, acrimonious up the thread. “We accept 25,000 to 30,000 bodies in actuality every month, and 70% of our business is echo business. When addition from Escondido wants to get calm with addition from Oceanside, they say, ‘I’ll accommodated you at Leo’s.’ I accept fabricated it . . . a amusing club.”
Pleased with his pronouncement, Koo unleashed the ample smile that would beam at approved intervals throughout the contempo interview. It is the aforementioned smile that greets assemblage at the door, breadth Koo can be begin Tuesday through Sunday nights. His manifesto, however, bare some arresting credibility about the differences amid his and added nightclubs.
Koo could accept mentioned, for example, that Leo’s is broadly admired as the best abode in San Diego County to apprehend alive country-Western music, and that it ability be the alone country breadth in America endemic and operated by a Korean who emigrated for political reasons. Koo became an American aborigine in 1975.
“I had to leave South Korea because I was against to the political bearings there,” Koo said. “I came to this country in 1967 to study, and I abounding several schools in the Los Angeles area. While I was active there, I got complex in the acceptation business.”
In 1970, Koo, his wife and adolescent babe (a son and additional babe were built-in in North County) confused to Oceanside, breadth he opened both an Oriental allowance bazaar and a wig bazaar on Mission Avenue. A man alleged Leo ran a Western-wear abundance alleged for himself aing door, and the two became friends.
“When Leo angry 59, he said he capital to semi-retire, so I asked him to advise the business to me,” Koo remembered. “I formed with him for a year, and again I took over. In 1977, I opened a additional store, a giant, 10,000-square-foot abode in the Gemco arcade centermost on El Camino Real. It was the better Western-wear abundance in California. I awash saddlery, supplies, clothes, everything.”
Business boomed, and Koo diversified, eventually operating bristles enterprises. By the time he awash the Mission Avenue abundance in 1982, he was a above stockholder in a baby North County bank. In 1984, in his role as a coordinator of amalgamated loans with added bounded banks, Koo abstruse that the buyer of a bend lot in San Marcos had filed Chapter 11. On the lot was a disco alleged Charlie’s. Koo bought the property, and, although he lacked acquaintance active a nightclub, he never had a agnosticism as to what affectionate of abode it should be, or what it would be called.
“I aboriginal heard country music at the abundance on Mission Avenue. Every day, all day, the radio played country music, and I admired it. Now, I don’t accept to annihilation else. Well, sometimes I accept to Korean music,” he added, laughing.
During the aboriginal three years of Leo’s existence, Koo had others administer the club while he tended to his concerns. Leo’s served cafeteria and banquet and featured alive music every night, but business fluctuated as Koo abstruse the ropes of the bistro trade. Then, in 1987, he took the reins himself and began abstraction the club to fit his eyes of it.
Koo adapted the kitchen at the rear of the abode into a aggregate stool-and-cocktail-counter access and Western-wear boutique, and angry the dining breadth into a d amplitude featuring videos and basin tables. To board smokers, he added a ample patio aloof alfresco the dancing area. Smack in the average of the room, Koo erected an octagonal, gazebo-like “shooter bar” that serves alone shooters and beer chasers, no alloyed drinks. Business swung upward.
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