Ranchero Mexican Restaurant and Cantina, a Local Favorite for 49 Years, Closes This Month

Published : Thursday, January 11, 2018 | 6:41 AM

Ranchero Closing Down

The East Pasadena, family-owned Ranchero Mexican Restaurant and Cantina is set to close its doors for good at the end of the month after 49 years in business in the same East Foothill Boulevard location.

News of the closure was posted on a window last Thursday which thanks customers for their long-time patronage and revealed the business lost their lease and will close for good on Jan 20.

“We’re closing it,” said family member of the restaurant Sandi Mejia.”We lost the lease and we’ve had almost 50 years of just a real, great journey in friends and family and this community.”

This historic photograph shows family members at their first organizational meetng after the restaurant debuted in 1969.

This historic photograph shows family members at their first organizational meeting after the restaurant debuted in 1969.

Roots of the Ranchero Mexican Restaurant and Cantina can be traced back to 1964 when Vicente, Alfredo, Raul, and Rogelio Mejia — known as the Mejia brothers — first set up shop with their own chicken stand inside what was the Manor Market located a few blocks south from the restaurant on Colorado Blvd.

“Manor Market was a Mexican market where people came to join–I mean you know, it’s those times people didn’t have bank accounts and it was some place familiar for a lot of the immigrants to come and people from the community to get good meat, good produce and just from your friendly neighborhood store,” said Mejia, who is the daughter of Alfredo Mejia.

The success of the humble business inside the Manor Market eventually led to the opening of the restaurant in 1969 on 2663 E. Foothill Blvd. where it has remained since.

“Since day one we have been there,” said Mejia.

The restaurant would go on to expand four locations in the coming years in San Gabriel, Duarte, and El Monte, all of which are closed.

The original location of the Manor Market where the Mejia brothers first set up shop with their own chicken stand has since been closed for the better part of three decades after Vicente Mejia was killed on site.

Mejia managed the Duarte which closed about two years ago. The San Gabriel location closed about 15 years ago and the El Monte location was a “short run”, she says.

The restaurant’s manager and son of Rogelio Mejia, Jaime Mejia, has worked at the Pasadena location for the past 40 years–a commitment he maintains while working as a full time teacher at Pasadena’s High Point Academy

“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, it’s like I’m working side by side with everybody,” said Jaime Mejia.

Mejia says his nights spent moonlighting as a restaurant manager is a rewarding part of his life.

“I’m busy, but I don’t see it as work. Almost every night, I’m going to this party and I’m providing people with this place to sit down, have some really good Mexican food, have some great margaritas and then talk to them and laugh with them and see how they’re doing. I’ve been there long enough where I’ve seen kids come in and then become young adults and then get married and then have their kids and so we have multiple generations come in and they’re coming back, continuing to sponsor the restaurant. So I really enjoy that. You hear about a job that you like, this is a job I like,” said Mejia.

Mejia’s staff includes four of his children and long-time cooks, two of which have worked at Ranchero longer than Mejia, and another, Pepe, who has been there for 35 years.

“He runs that kitchen perfectly,” said Mejia.

Mejia has made it a point to give back to youth in the city and has been known to hire on students from his school. Several have stayed employed with the restaurant for extended period of time and three of those hires have been working there for over ten years, according to Mejia.

“I hate to compare it to like Cheers, but it really is. Everybody knows each other in there,” explained Mejia.

Mejia says he is grateful to have learned the ins and outs of the restaurant business from his late uncle, Alfredo Mejia, who was the second general manager.

“When he started running the restaurant in the 80’s, he took it from one restaurant to four restaurants and just really made it flourish and it’s just awesome to have worked under his wing,” explained Mejia.

Some of Sandi Mejia’s favorite memories of the restaurant date back to her childhood, where she says the location was a family-centric place of gathering.

“We used to do New Year’s there. The whole family would get together. And also, we used to do our monthly meetings where the family would come together and celebrate birthdays, anniversaries, birth, weddings. It was just a really good time to keep the family together,” said Mejia.

According to Mejia, Rogelio Mejia would be sure to go out of his way to make customers feel welcome on special days throughout their lives.

“He would do special window writings like ‘happy birthday’ to a customer or just so many little things. He really did a whole lot for the ambience of that restaurant. Rogelio was a big part of Pasadena,” said Mejia.

The building is currently in the process of being sold by the owners who are the family members of the late Raul Mejia.

“I know that [closing] was in the foreseeable future, I just don’t think it was until this past year. Then you know, things change. So, then the dynamics change and I know I think it’s time for my cousin to have a life with his family after so many years of hard work and I know he’s enjoyed it,” Sandi Mejia explained.

Some of the restaurant’s regulars are holding onto every last minute the establishment has left.

“Since Thursday, there’s at least five couples or families that have been every night and have vowed to continue to be there every night until we close, so that’s an indication of how connected the customers are to the restaurant. It’s not me, it’s the restaurant, it’s the other employees, it’s the other customers that people make all these friendships there,” explained Mejia.

There may be a chance that at some point in the future the next generation of Mejia’s will follow the footsteps of the family business.

“We can only hope that one in the large family that we have will decide to do something like that,” said Mejia.

As for Jaime Mejia, it is a bittersweet end of an era for his family.

“I’m going to miss this. I don’t know if I want it to end, but of course I don’t have the control for that unless something spectacular happens or we start over,” said Mejia.

Visit Ranchero Mexican Restaurant and Cantina until January 20 at 2663 E Foothill Blvd.

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