Friday was the last time Lydia Martinez served her Colorado Springs customers their favorite Mexican dishes from the kitchen of the family-run Mexican restaurant Vallejo that she opened downtown with her mother in 1962.
Martinez, 87, and his family have officially closed the doors of the restaurant after just over 60 years in business.
Longtime patrons flocked to the restaurant’s cozy dining room at 111 S. Corona St. throughout early Friday afternoon, grabbing their favorite dishes and oversized orders to enjoy one last time.
“I’m going to miss the chiles rellenos and its enchilada sauce,” Laura Marshall said as she waited for her order to be called. She has been dining out with her family for 44 years. “It’s our go-to place. When the family comes back to town, they have a list of places to eat and Vallejo’s is at the top. I almost never order from other places because it’s just not same. I want my food to taste like here!”
But after six decades of hard work — including the strange and uncertain early days of the COVID-19 pandemic — it was time to shut down, said Martinez’s son, Phil Vallejo. Now his mother can retire and prepare for a trip to visit family in Mexico, he said. And he can fulfill his dream of being an artist.
“It’s a bittersweet feeling. It’s surreal. We’re happy to start a new chapter in our lives, but (reality) will probably hit us all in a few weeks,” Vallejo said.
As he speaks, Vallejo busies himself with setting tables and chairs, greeting and exchanging farewells with loyal customers turned friends. He breaks the unfortunate news to a walk-in customer that the restaurant is no longer taking orders. They have a long list of pre-ordered takeaways to prepare, and Martinez is busy in the back whipping them into creation.
“We weren’t really prepared for this, for so many customers arriving, knowing that we were leaving and having their last meals,” he said.
But after the family hang up their aprons for the last time on Friday, they will find other ways to keep busy and cook. The family encourages Martinez, for example, to consider writing a cookbook or teaching cooking classes locally, Vallejo said — because staying active at work is what she loves.
Even the last day the restaurant was open is a testament to that hard work ethic, laughs Vallejo. Her mother’s original plan was to close the restaurant-turned-institution on the last day of August.
“But then she saw that August 31 was a Wednesday, so she said, ‘Why don’t we just end the week?'”
Jeff Haney and Charles Walters, who have been Vallejo regulars for decades, said they would miss the restaurant’s atmosphere and the Vallejo family the most. But they also don’t know where to find the best Mexican food to fill the void.
Long-time customers recover and enjoy their last meals. https://t.co/aYB3OJhryK pic.twitter.com/4PShODEB3q
— Breeanna Jent (@breejentnews) September 2, 2022
“That’s a good question,” Walters said.
Marshall wishes the Vallejo family the best.
“On the one hand, I’m really happy that (Lydia) can retire. But on the other hand, it’s so sad to see them go,” she said. “I’m really going to miss seeing them.”