Sarah Meyer: PNT staff writer
Today will be the last day of business for a 33-year-old Portales restaurant.
The family-owned and operated La Hacienda is closing its doors.
Esther Ornelas, who owns the restaurant with her husband, Crespin, said the decision to close the restaurant has been difficult.
“We’ve been wrestling with it since September,” she said. “All of us are real sad. … It’s just something that had to be done.”
Ornelas said she has been sick, and stress, such as when she has to work 12-hour days, aggravates the symptoms of her illness.
Joe and Aurora Flores opened La Hacienda opened on North Avenue K in 1975. Joe Flores said there was no Mexican restaurant in Portales then.
“All his brothers were cooks, and he ended up owning a restaurant,” Esther Ornelas said.
Esther Ornelas, the Flores’ daughter, and her husband took over nine years ago. They looked for a more central location for three years before moving in June 2007 into the current location at the corner of Avenue I and First Street after the Wagon Wheel closed.
Esther Ornelas said she and her husband had hoped their son, Randy, who manages La Hacienda, would take over the business.
“He said, ‘It’s just too much,” Ornelas said. Randy Ornelas has worked in the family business since he was 16 years old.
The restaurant has faced some challenges since the move.
Business tripled with the move, and the couple had to hire more employees other than just family members. There’s been a lot of turnover and when employees don’t show up, Esther Ornelas has to fill in.
This summer, several people who became sick with salmonella reported they had eaten at La Hacienda.
Ornelas said that didn’t play into the decision to close the business.
“They never found anything in our food,” she said. “It slowed us down for a month or two, but business came back.”
Since posting notice Thursday that the restaurant would close, Esther Ornelas said customers have been coming in crying and upset.
“It’s been hard,” she said. “We’ve cried with our customers.” She anticipated more crying today.
Paula Garcia, who has worked at the restaurant for 25 years, said she’s made a lot of friends over the years. She’s seen children grow up who now bring their own children to La Hacienda.
“It’ll be hard,” she said of the restaurant’s closing.
Miguel Flores, son of Joe and Aurora, said he started washing dishes when he had to stand on a milk crate to reach the sink.
Jennifer Flores, daughter of Joe and Aurora, said many of the customers are like family.
“If we had troubles, they’d pray for us and we’d pray for them,” she said.
Joe Flores remembered one of the best compliments he ever got.
A couple who had been students at Eastern New Mexico University moved away. After a few years, they went to Albuquerque to attend a conference.
“They rented a car to come over here and eat,” he said.
“They said, ‘The stuffed sopapillas are still the same as when we were in college,’” Esther said. “They were so excited.”
Other out-of-town customers return year after year to buy chips and salsa or green chile, and several people come back to dine during ENMU’s homecoming, Garcia said.
“We want to thank Portales for their support and for everything they’ve done for us,” said Ornelas. “We just love the people. We’re really going to miss all our customers.”