SAN DIEGO -- As lunch hour closed in, the foot traffic outside Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café picked up.
“Oh my gosh, what happened?” one passerby asked.
“I had no idea it was closing,” another said.
The Liberty Station restaurant had its lights off and doors closed. It was an unusual sight for a Thursday.
“It’s really sad,” said Jeff Major, a customer who has been going to the café for years.
Con Pane Rustic Breads & Café first opened in Point Loma in 1999 before moving to its Liberty Station location about 10 years ago. The food -- and the customer service -- are so popular that some customers wrote notes on the outside doors. Others brought flowers after hearing the news of the café's closure.
“As far as good, authentic, European bread goes, this is one of the best in San Diego -- or was, anyway,” Major said.
“I’m just cut down,” said Kathy Merten, a customer who had hoped to stop in for a grilled cheese. “I feel so sorry for the owners.”
The company posted a notice on Facebook Wednesday saying it had been audited by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Although we require all workers to provide us with government specified documentation evidencing their employment eligibility, a number of our employees have been without our knowledge, determined to be unauthorized workers," the post read. "The discovery of a large number of unauthorized workers has so disrupted operations we have had no choice but to close."
In an email to FOX 5 Thursday, the Department of Homeland Security said it was stepping up its enforcement on businesses that hire workers without proper documentation.
“We continue to expect employers and state officials to comply with federal law, established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986, which requires employers to verify the identity and work eligibility of all individuals they hire," the DHS said. "ICE is the federal agency responsible for enforcing these laws, which were set up to protect jobs for U.S. citizens and others who are lawfully employed, and to eliminate unfair competitive advantages for companies that hire an illegal workforce. ICE’s worksite enforcement investigators help combat worker exploitation, illegal wages, child labor, and other illegal practices."
Many customers outside the café, reacted to the news with mixed emotions.
“I don’t know,” Major said. “It’s certainly important to have laws and regulations, but my heart goes out to anyone trying to make a living in San Diego.”