The Family Way
Mijares Mexican Restaurant celebrates 90 years in Pasadena and the woman who started it all.
By Dan O'Heron 06/09/2011
For a restaurant to be owned and operated by one family for nine decades — and remain vibrant and thriving throughout all that time — is just as remarkable as the city of Pasadena celebrating its 125th birthday, perhaps even more so.
These days, the restaurant is owned and operated by partner and General Manager R-lene Mijares de Lang, the granddaughter of founder Jesusita Mijares. De Lang is assisted by her mother Alice Mijares Recendez, brother Tom Recendez and sister Tina Jimenez. “Our family,” says de Lang, “still honors Jesucita’s life, business and legacy — it’s kept us going for 90 years.”
What was it like for Jesusita and the restaurant growing up with the city?
Following is a brief history of Pasadena’s oldest and one of its most popular, restaurants:
1918: Fleeing civil-war torn Jalisco, Mexico, Jesusita, a now-widowed teenage bride left alone with an infant daughter, first settled in Richmond, Calif., and remarried.
Nov. 11, 1918: World War I ends and a ban on public gathering is lifted.
1920: Remarried, a daughter is born to the young couple who settled on South Raymond Avenue and Fillmore Street. One night, Jesusita’s husband, believed to be on his way to a gambling house, was robbed of $300 and fatally shot within a few blocks of their home.
Jan. 16, 1920: Prohibition begins. Millions of gallons of liquor are shipped to Tijuana and Mexicali. Pasadenans flock to Mexico.
1920: Twice-widowed Jesusita opens her home to boarders and, buying corn for her metate stone grinder at $2 for a 100-pound sack, turns the house into a small tortilla- and tamale-making factory.
Oct. 25, 1929: Black Friday. The stock market crashes, companies close and millions are out of work. To make ends meet, Jesusita begins to wheel shopping carts full of tortillas and tamales around the neighborhood.
Dec. 5, 1933: Prohibition ends. People are allowed to take home up to five gallons of liquor.
1935: Armed with a new tortilla-making machine, Jesusita got up at 3 a.m. and turned out 500 dozen tortillas a day, which she sold to grocery stores.
1940s: During World War II and throughout the 1940s, “California, Here I Come” was becoming a national anthem. Settlers who had never seen an ocean, an orange or a taco came from all over the country. For Pasadenans, Mijares tacos were becoming as familiar as hot dogs. To newcomers, Jesusita had to explain that a taco could be eaten just like a sandwich.
1965: After seeing Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello get wet together in films like “Beach Blanket Bingo,” cozy couples were stopping by Jesusita’s home and restaurant after the movies.
1978: Jesusita’s home and business are destroyed by arson. Five years later, after penny-pinching and cajoling lenders, Jesusita and her daughter, Alice, purchase a large property and build a new restaurant at its present location.
March 17, 1984: On St. Patrick’s Day, mother and daughter add a small Mijares restaurant on Washington Boulevard.
Feb. 3, 1988: After a life measured by smiles and spoonfuls, Jesusita dies. Today, her memory is enshrined by a large photo portrait of her that hangs in the restaurant’s banquet room.
1988: After Jesusita’s death, granddaughter R-lene gives up a teaching career in San Diego and returns to the business. “These were bad times,” she recalls. “I felt the restaurant needed me.”
Jan. 17 1994: Mijares’ bartender Jorge Palma’s famous margaritas get shaken that day like few other times during the Northridge earthquake.
With all it has going for it, the restaurant doesn’t act its age. It conjures for me the picture of an elderly woman who is not afraid to look in the mirror because she sees a reflection of time well spent and a desire for much more to wish for.
The stage is set and the scene is impressive: A meandering tour of the sprawling grounds reveals an entry bar and a cocktail party patio, a capacious central dining room, a colorful banquet hall plus three patios webbed with vines and sheltered by trees.
Paintings, murals, floor tiles, dining furniture, doodads and doohickeys have been vigilantly attended to and are still unfading after 90 years. Add the charm of the staff, zesty dinner combos and stirring margaritas, and all things work together in the most hospitable of ways, just as they must have in the elegant villas of Jesusita’s old Mexico.
The future? Like the city, the restaurant has time on its side — if it doesn’t act its age.