Business feature: Restaurant reopening keeps it in family

By Clarence Plank: PNT staff writer

La Hacienda restaurant has reopened in Portales under new management, but is still in the Ornelas family.

Nick Bara is the new owner. Bara said he made his mother-in-law Esther Ornelas an offer and she agreed to sell.

La Hacienda closed in November after serving the Portales area for 33 years. Ornelas cited illness and stress from 12-hour workdays as factors in her decision to close the restaurant.

The restaurant has been a staple in the community for more than three decades, but not without its issues.

La Hacienda was the center of a salmonella investigation last July by the state Department of Health. Eight of 12 people stricken told investigators they had eaten at the restaurant.

La Hacienda was never closed by state health investigators, nor were inspectors able to establish a direct link to La Hacienda.
For Bara, it’s a whole new start after working at the Cattle Baron Restaurant.

“I worked there for six and half years,” Bara said. “I worked my way up from a dishwasher and when I left I was the general manager there.”

He was general manager for three years and kitchen manager for about two.

At La Hacienda, Bara has hired back the original cooks. His brother-in-law is the kitchen manager and he brought in a few other family members who had worked at the old La Hacienda.

The wait staff is new to the restaurant and needed training.

“The hard part about it is there were no customers to train the staff with,” Bara said. “I mean we are a customer-oriented business, so what I did is make an outline of what they need to do. I gave them a little knowledge about the menu, so they would know what they are selling and how to answer questions coming from a table.”

Bara said he did this to prepare staff mentally and physically for what they are getting themselves into.

“So far, I think it has been pretty good,” he said. “I think it was better than not trying at all.”

“I always thought it was hard to tell someone to do their job properly,” Bara said. “With my background at the Cattle Baron, I learned everything because I started as a dishwasher and worked my way up.”

Bara said it is different to run a restaurant than to work for one.

“Working for a restaurant I had to work hard to meet the quotas,” Bara said. “Being my own (boss) I have to make these quotas better and then I also have to pay property taxes, watch the utilities, bills and things.”

“A typical day for me is looking at those numbers, watching the cooks and making sure presentation is all there and the food quality is superb.”

Some of the old customers of La Hacienda and Cattle Baron have been dropping by to say hello and tell Bara how much they appreciate the return of the restaurant.

“Many of the regulars have stopped by and so far I’ve been getting positive feedback,” Bara said. “A lot of them wanted to know who I was, or who the new owner was.”

“It has been a fair share of regulars and they said they are happy to see the place open again.”

Where: Corner of Avenue I and First Street

Hours :

Mondays through Thursdays: 10:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Friday and Saturday: 10:30 a.m. to 9 p.m.

Sunday: 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m.