By Kevin Wilson: Freedom New Mexico
The year was 1982, and Juan “Juanito” Garza was just another Muleshoe resident in his early 20s, working at a Mexican restaurant.
With a family of four to support, he saw an opportunity with an empty building in Clovis. His father-in-law co-signed for the building, and Juan and wife Noemi took over in the kitchen.
Nearly 25 years later, Juanito’s restaurant is still a family affair.
“Once you get going, you can’t stop,” said Garza, who describes his restaurant as a Tex-Mex eatery. “You have to keep up with changes in the community, keep up with your growing family.”
The family is also known as the employee pool. Noemi, known to most as “Mimi,” does the paperwork, and his three children have all worked in the restaurant.
Albert Garza, 27, said he has been working at the restaurant on-and-off for about 10 years. His siblings Amanda, 27, and Juanito, 21, also log hours at the Portales and Clovis locations.
“My brother (Juanito, 21) and I have worked other jobs,” said Albert, a server. “For most parts, we kind of wanted to and we were kind of forced.”
Through the years, little has changed, except for the addition of a restaurant in Portales in 1992. Juan Garza said he had employees living in Portales who said a restaurant could work there, and he jumped when a building became available.
Challenges with the Clovis location, he said, were dealing with differing state regulations between Texas and New Mexico. In Portales, the challenge was a little different.
“Portales was a little difficult in the way of hiring people,” he said. “There were people, but you had to deal with students with college (classes) and work around their schedule.”
As he’s approached his 50s, Juan Garza has seen his status grow as well. He’s a city commissioner, but he joked that his voting record is just as likely to keep customers away as it is to bring them in.
Whoever comes and goes, the family will likely be a big part of it. Whether he’s still working there or not, Albert Garza sees the restaurants sticking around another 25 years — because good food brings people back.
“Other places change menus, recipes,” he said. “We’ve stayed the same as long as I remember. We’ve never seen anything change. The only things that change are the cooks.”