Family Grateful For Customers Who Have Helped Them Rebuild In New Location
By Molly Allen
The kitchen fire in July that caused Mercedes & Family restaurant to shut down seemed like something the family may never recover from.
But today, having reopened in a new location three months after the fire, Mercedes Guzman and her family are thinking positively about the future. The accidental grease fire may have been a blessing in disguise, they say.
“We’re looking at this in a good light,” said Guzman’s son, Erik Gomez, the restaurant’s manager. “We’re like the Phoenix, rising from the ashes. We’re moving forward and we’re evolving.”
After picking up the pieces from the blaze, the family decided they were ready to start serving their famous tacos, burritos and tamales again.
Another Mexican restaurant at 2201 W. Lincoln Ave. had closed over the summer, and the family decided to seize the opportunity.
All of the kitchen equipment was ready to use, so the restaurant moved in to the former home of Sharky’s Pizza Shack and Anita’s Mexican Restaurant and got ready to open Sept. 14.
The larger space seemed daunting at first, but the family knew they could make it work with the support of their loyal customers.
With one Facebook post and one tweet on opening day, people started packing the place. The announcement went viral, and hundreds of customers came by to show their support during the first weekend.
“We’ve been so busy since we’ve been open again. It’s been beyond our expectations,” Gomez said. “But we really don’t think it’s a honeymoon phase. We push volume here — we always have — and we’re now able to serve more people with a bigger kitchen, more space for seating and more parking.”
Gomez says he’s happy to be back in the restaurant after working for the Harvest Auto Group for the past few months. Once the family found the new location, he had to help his mother full time to get the restaurant back up and running.
He said his mom was tired of sitting around. She’d much rather be working.
“We are really hyper people,” Gomez said. “We always have to be working and we couldn’t wait any longer. Mom had to come first, and we needed to do something to get the business moving again.”
A History in the Community
Mercedes Guzman moved to the United States from Jalisco, Mexico, in 1982.
Her passion for caring for others led her to open Mercedes & Family, which specializes in authentic, homemade Mexican food that isn’t cooked until the customer orders it.
Guzman has been the main cook for all 16 years the business has been open, and she is proud to have served her community for so many years.
Many customers say they enjoy the restaurant because the food is so much like what they were raised on — what their mother or grandmother would cook for them.
“I’m so thankful for all of my customers and all who have supported me over the years,” Guzman said. “I didn’t know how many people we were beloved by until the day of the fire, and I couldn’t rebuild without their support.”
Mercedes & Family restaurant began serving homemade Mexican food — complete with freshly made tortillas — in 2002 at their previous location, 5603 Tieton Drive.
But an accidental grease fire on July 14 caused nearly a half-million dollars in damage, forcing the business to close.
Gomez recalled that the day of the fire showed Guzman and her family just how much the Yakima community loves and supports them.
“We really had no idea what we were going to do,” Gomez said. “We thought we might be forgotten about. But that day, seeing so many people come out to support us, was a true testament to the number of lives we’ve touched in this community. Mercedes is not just a name or a restaurant. It’s a family, and we’ve been happy to take care of so many people over the years.”
Gomez recalls the high school students who would come in for a bite after school but didn’t have enough money to pay for their meal.
Instead of turning them away, Mercedes fed them a home-cooked meal and told them it would come full circle.
“We tell them that when they become a big attorney or some hot shot businessman, that’s when they can help us and return the favor later on in life,” Gomez said.
Over the years, Mercedes & Family has been a place for people to gather. The younger customers grow up and later bring in their families.
“People have really made Mercedes a tradition, and now Mercedes & Family is progressing and we’re evolving,” Gomez said. “Everybody was affected by the fire — the whole community — but we’re committed to staying here.”
Originally published in Yakima Business Times