Before the streets of Pasadena were paved and every corner had a Chase Bank on it, Colorado Boulevard was a road frequented by braceros on their way to the orange groves. Yes- Orange Grove Boulevard was once a place that flourished with oranges and other fruit. Immigrants including my great grandfather, Gregorio Mejia worked as a migrant farmworker on these groves to send money back home to my great grandmother Eusebia and their 13 children. In the late 1930s, the Mejia family relocated from their home in Zacatecas, Mexico to the city of Pasadena where they carried out the American dream. They worked diligently to acquire citizenship, pursue educational opportunities and participate in communal affairs, ultimately building a platform for themselves as one the first Latino families in Pasadena. With an eagerness to start a family business, four of Gregorio’s hard-working sons, including my grandfather opened their first establishment, a grocery store on Colorado Blvd. called Manor Market. It was a popular and affordable place to shop that helped the family make a name for themselves and eventually gave rise to the Ranchero Restaurant chain.
In 1969, the first Ranchero Restaurant was opened in Pasadena followed by three other locations in Duarte, San Gabriel, and El Monte. The employees and three generations of the Mejia family would serve the greater San Gabriel Valley for almost 50 years. Ranchero of Pasadena, “the Ranch” as some would call it had one the most unique inter-communities in the world. The magic of Ranchero in some ways is indescribable to an outsider. At best, it looked like a typical hole in the wall Mexican restaurant but once you entered through its doors, people could experience second hand the reasons why Ranchero was much more than that. The community that made up the clientele, included long-standing friends, neighbors, classmates, and extended family. Throughout junior high, high school and college, I spent my weekends working at Ranchero. Through my experiences came the invaluable lessons in how I treat people and how I deal with circumstances under pressure. Having met and served those with a variety of different appearances, ages, genders, sexual orientations, social classes, religions, physical abilities, and backgrounds, I broadened my communication skills in the 9-year stint and learned quickly why it was much more than a family business.
Customers who have been coming in since the day we opened, in ’69, would return years later, rich in outside experiences, yet willing to share with us, a small, exclusive, and deep-rooted group of employees. They shared stories of both triumph and defeat, over delicious food and margaritas. They came back married with children of their own. Neighbors ran into neighbors, old classmates and families celebrated reunions, while others found lasting friendships from recognizable faces over the years they had shown their patronage. It was and still is an extraordinary circle I call my Ranch family. It was the impact of these one-of-a-kind customers as well as the coworker who shaped my very being and understanding of the world that I’m truly grateful for. The Ranch was able to be a part of countless lives. I really could write a book about it. From the proposal at Table 16 to the marriage saved at table 3 (over a hot bowl of pozole.) The Ranch hosted baptisms, birthdays, post-baseball games, track meets, retirement parties, observances of those lost, and just about every holiday celebration. I was only thirteen years old when my dad asked me if I wanted to work there. Little did I know this decision would shape my life indefinitely. I miss that place every single day. There will be a taco-shaped hole forever in my heart.