In the early 1900s, Jesucita Mijares fled Mexico. She walked from her hometown of Jalisco before finally settling in Pasadena in 1920 where she opened a small tortilla factory. In order to do so, she had to borrow money.
“My grandmother hardly spoke English,” said Rlene Mijares de Lang, Jesucita’s granddaughter and general manager of the restaurant. “She went to a doctor that she knew and a gentleman that owned an auto repair. She borrowed $4,000 from each one of them to buy this property for $8,000 on a handshake, no contracts.”
The small tortilla factory has since turned into a hacienda-style restaurant that is celebrating its 100-year anniversary, the oldest in Pasadena.
The family-owned restaurant has a family member operating each part of the business, from Rlene’s brother Tom Recendez managing the restaurant to her niece Mary Alice Recendez operating their social media. While Jesucita died in 1988 at age 91, her family still carries on her spirit, making Mijares a mainstay in the dining world of the city. They still use the same recipes that Jesucita brought from Mexico.
“The food and the service,” said Jason Betts on why he has been coming to Mijares for more than 25 years. “The flavor and the freshness … never any complaints [about either].”
Along with delicious meals, Mijares tries to live out Jesucita’s motto of “Mi Casa es su Casa” or “My house is your house.” They apply this motto to their customers. The family knows most if not all of their customers on a first-name basis.
“Our guests are like family,” said Tom. “I may not know every single person’s name that comes through that door, but I know their face and I’ve known them since I was 9 years old, when I started here.”
The family not only applies Jesucita’s motto to their customers, but also their staff.
Maria Guzman has been working at Mijares since 1984, a total of 36 years. Now one of the managers, Guzman is one of many employees who have been working for decades at the restaurant.
“When I first came in ‘84, Jesucita, she told me ‘mi casa es tu casa’ and I took it literally,” said Guzman. “They take us as family members and they treat you so special.”
Juvenal Uribe, a server, carries the sentiments after working at the restaurant for 30 years.
“They make you feel like a family — like you are a part of the family,” he said. “God bless all of the [Mijares] family, and I’m very grateful to be here.”
The restaurant is larger than most, with 6,000 square feet and able to seat 600 people. The restaurant has a more homey feel to it because part of it was Jesucita’s home. After her death, the family renovated the matriarch’s home that was next door to the restaurant. They turned it into a banquet hall and an outdoor patio where they now host private parties.
The namesake of the restaurant was also known for her generosity. She taught her family to be the same to help those that need support.
“My grandmother always said never let anyone go hungry,” Rlene said. “She was very charitable to her family and beyond.”
She continued to talk about how her grandmother and mother got her involved with Villa Esperanza, an organization that serves intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals. She also spoke about how her brother does a toy drive every year for the Salvation Army.
“We can’t give million-dollar checks, but [we can give] lots of little checks and you know that makes a difference,” Rlene said.
Local Pasadeneans have also seen the generosity of the Mijares family.
“They’ve always been a great partner for this city and community,” said Pasadena Police Chief John Perez, who was among hundreds of people who attended a special celebration Sunday in honor of the retsaurant’s centennial. “They’ve always been caring for this community and all the things that have been going on from the poverty issues to the violence to the outreach they have always been in the conversation.”
Former fighter Joe Robledo has been living in Pasadena for his entire life and remembers how Jesucita would help support the local boxers that his father, Canto “TNT” Robledo, would train. Canto, who was blind, was a championship boxer who went on to train fighters after his sight deteriorated.
“My father had fighters who needed jobs and Mijares would always employ them,” said Robledo. “She supported the boxing stables by employing many of the fighters there.”
For their centennial celebration, the restaurant is giving back to the community by donating to charitable organizations. One day every month the restaurant will donate all of their proceeds to local nonprofits.
“The theme for our centennial is giving back to the community featuring many exciting events,” Rlene said in a press release. “Each month we will be honoring local nonprofits — 12 in total. Proceeds will be donated directly to these wonderful organizations.”
The next event will be Thursday, Feb. 13, and the proceeds will go to support Villa Esperanza Services.