Mary Alice Recendez started as a hostess at Mijares Mexican Restaurant when she was 13 years old and, at 32, is the only fourth-generation member of her family in a leadership position.
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Mary Alice Recendez, 32, never got to meet her great-grandmother Jesucita — but she feels connected to her every day.
As the family story goes, Jesucita purchased her own plot of land in Pasadena, Calif., in 1920, and owned a boarding house nearby. She fed the boarders home-cooked meals, and her recipes became so popular that locals began buying plates of food through the window. Soon this evolved into Mijares Mexican Restaurant, which has stayed in the family ever since. Recendez is now the only fourth-generation family member to work in a management position, with the hopes of taking over after her grandmother, the current owner.
The restaurant, fondly called the Mexican Cheers of Pasadena, depends on its loyal regulars. Recendez is a sort of regular herself: She grew up around the restaurant, having been raised in the house Jesucita passed away in. Her first word as a baby was the name of a longtime server. She starting as a hostess at 13 and worked her way up to assistant manager.
Now, as a manager, she wants her customers to feel engaged and have decision-making power at the restaurant. For example, she asks them what dishes they like so she can better tailor the menu to their wants. “You can’t come into a business and look at a menu and think you know what people want,” she says. Plus, even as the restaurant has grown from its original layout to now include a banquet room and five patios to seat a total of 600 people, she wants it to retain the familial vibe that makes diners want to continue returning.
“I can tell you the names of the 15 customers here right now because they’re so loyal,” she says.
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Even that level of loyalty couldn’t insulate Mijares from the pandemic’s effects, however. The restaurant postponed its 100th anniversary celebration last year, and only about half of its 67 employees now still work there.
Now that Mijares can welcome guests back in, Recendez is thinking a lot about bolstering the business for the future. Most of its customers are over 50, which Recendez knows is not sustainable, so she’s looking for ways to draw in younger people. For Cinco de Mayo, the restaurant held a party indoors — a “first official fiesta,” as she called it, which was designed to bring older and younger generations together. “After all the headache and uncertainty we’ve been through this last year, it’s a nice breath of fresh air getting people safely back together and enjoying tequila at our home,” she says.
Recendez has also set up an Instagram account for the restaurant, which she runs. She’s pleased when the children of longtime customers find them there. “That shows me that the relationships you have with them take you far and go such a long way,” she says.
These days, with the worst of the pandemic behind us, Recendez feels hopeful. She’s starting to learn about the restaurant’s finances in preparation to take over. Learning numbers is a lot different than running their social media, but Recendez is used to wearing various hats. “We do everything ourselves,” she says.
As she looks to the future, she remains grateful for the past. Recendez was raised by a single mother — and even though she never met her great-grandmother Jesucita, she considers the restaurant she built to be much more than a place to eat. It’s a support system, too. “I feel like I owe my life to this restaurant,” she says.