Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Ortega’s New Mexican Restaurant started 32 years ago on a whim.
Rudy and Edna Ortega opened the establishment with no experience or even plans to own a restaurant. But when the couple’s son told them about a chance to move in to an empty restaurant space, they jumped at the opportunity.
Even lacking experience, Ortega’s not only survived, but over the past three decades the New Mexican restaurant at the corner of Wyoming and Comanche with the yellow awning and wood paneled walls has built a dedicated multi-generational following.
Ortega’s announced Monday on social media it will close permanently Sept. 12.
News of the closure has been crushing to the restaurant’s loyal customer base.
“We’ve had a lot of families that have called and they feel bad that we’re closing,” Edna said.
Heartfelt comments immediately flooded the Facebook post that announced the closure, and some customers have even dropped off small gifts.
The Ortegas said the decision to close was tough.
Rudy said the past few months of moving between dine-in and take-out made it difficult to sustain business – and with he and his wife nearing their 80s, it was also time for them to retire.
“It’s a little bittersweet,” he said. “We’d like to end it on a better note without the virus.”
Luckily, indoor dining at 25% capacity will be allowed for the foreseeable future, and the Ortegas are anticipating many customers wanting to drop by for a final meal.
“Now that we’re gonna be open for the next three weeks or whatever, I’m sure there’s going to be a lot of tears,” Rudy said.
He said “it would be nice to find a buyer,” but there are currently no plans for it to remain open under new ownership.
Both Rudy and Edna said that over the years, they have watched their regulars’ families expand and grow up, and have formed deep friendships with those customers through table-side conversations.
Much like a family home, Ortega’s has played host to everything from wedding receptions to graduations, and of course, many birthdays.
“So many, many neat things have happened here,” Rudy said.
Bryan Hall, who has worked at the restaurant for 15 years, said Ortega’s is truly a family restaurant and it’s the type of place where both staff and customers become members of the family.
“The thing about this place is once you get off the airplane when you’re coming home, you come to Ortega’s first and then you go home, because this is your home,” Hall said.
He said that there were even regulars who became daily fixtures in the restaurant.
“(With) some of our customers we even questioned if they had a kitchen because they were always here,” Hall said.