After 49 Years, Ranchero Restaurant Says “Goodbye” with a Party

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Story by ANDY VITALICIO with BRANDON VILLALOVOS | Video by BRANDON VILLALOVOS

6:32 am | January 23, 2018


Ranchero Mexican Restaurant and Cantina closed its doors after 49 years of operation with a margarita-enhanced parking lot party for friends and family last Saturday night.

As the skies darkened and a chilly wind swept across the lot, dozens of parka-clad devout fans, former staff and Mejia family members laughed and reminisced about the important times of their lives they spent at the restaurant.

Earlier this month, the owners announced they have lost the lease to the site and were closing in January 20. When the final day came, it was a bittersweet day for most of those who have been associated with Ranchero in some way.

“It’s a change in our City,” Pasadena Councilmember Victor Gordo said. “It’s a loss for the community, but it’s also an opportunity to celebrate all of the people who came to this place. You can look around and see families who have come here for 30 or 40 years. Many of the kids of the families who were patrons here, worked here and went off to Stanford, Berkeley, UCLA, Cal State.”

Gordo said he worked at Ranchero off and on starting when he was 10 years old until when he finished college. His father, an immigrant from Mexico, started working at Ranchero as a dishwasher, and went on to become waiter, cook, and ultimately the manager of the restaurant.

“And now here, you see many of us who worked here as kids come back to work on this final day as an homage to this great family restaurant and the great people who made up this establishment,” Gordo said.

Ranchero’s roots can be traced back to 1964 when brothers Vicente, Alfredo, Raul and Rogelio Mejia first put up their own chicken stand inside what was the Manor Market, a few blocks south. The business eventually evolved and led to the opening of Ranchero in 1969 on Foothill Blvd. The restaurant has been on that location ever since.

On Saturday night, Rogelio Mejia said that earlier he had some second thoughts about throwing a final party, but during the festivities said he was glad he did.

“Now that I see all these happy faces, even if it’s cold [outside tonight], I love it,” Mejia said. “Everybody’s just so nice. Three generations of people came here since 1969, oh, it’s just kids and all the people… we’re having a good time.”

Family members said Rogelio has made it a point to go out of his way to make customers feel welcome, especially on special days, throughout their lives. He would put up special window displays, with sayings like “Happy Birthday” for a celebrating customer. and many little things that did a whole lot for the ambience.

Rogelio’s son Jaime was one of the restaurant’s managers until closing day. Jaime also teaches at Pasadena’s High Point Academy but was equally committed to making the restaurant work.

“I have been managing it for a long time, but the thing about managing this restaurant is that everybody has been there for so long it’s not like I’m managing,” Jaime said. “It’s like I’m working side by side with everybody.”

Jaime’s staff included four of his children and long-time cooks, two of which have worked at Ranchero longer than he. Pepe, another employee, has been with Ranchero for 35 years.

The building is owned by family members of the late Raul Mejia, who are now said to be in the process of selling the property.

When word of the impending closure came out, some of the families that have considered Ranchero a special place vowed to be there every night – and they were, until last Saturday night.

“The friends and family I’ve been able to make over the years – those relationships are coming to an end at this location,” Veronica Mejia, of the younger generation of Mejias, said Saturday. “Ranchero has always been a place of community for me. So my heart is heavy. It’s like losing a loved one to see this place go. I look forward to whatever the future holds, but we’ll always cherish all the people that I’ve been lucky enough to come into contact with because of this establishment.”