Melissa Salazar was a manager at a Las Cruces McDonald’s when she and her father, Jaime Salazar, an executive chef at the Holiday Inn, took over La Nueva Casita Café, a Mexican restaurant in the historic Mesquite District in 2005.
“My brother was driving through the neighborhood and saw the building was for rent. My dad grew up two blocks from here,” said Melissa Salazar describing downtown Las Cruces and the original township. “We applied to be occupants and the owner said there were several people who inquired about it but he thought that my dad would be the right one to carry on what his mother started.”
La Nueva Casita was created in 1957 along the Camino Real, the same route that brought conquistadors from Mexico City to Santa Fe. Historians note that the path was also likely used by Indigenous people for travel years prior. Many who remain in the neighborhood are descendants of the original settlers who created Las Cruces, with some of the homes dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s.
After a few years of growing the business, the Salazars obtained a loan from The Loan Fund to purchase the building in 2014.
“We wouldn’t know what to do if we didn’t have The Loan Fund,” Melissa Salazar said. “We had applied at other banks but we just didn’t have the credit. It is a big risk, especially in the restaurant business. They gave us a chance when no one else did.”
The Salazars have made some updates in the 17 years they’ve taken out a loan to purchase the building, including updating the menu a bit with tacos estrellas, a special seasoned pork and beef mix in a soft corn tortilla, and flauta bandera, rolled tacos made with three sauces, a guacamole, sour cream and spicy tomato. But they have also kept the original owner’s staples of red chile, caldo de res and menudo on the menu.
Having a digital presence on Facebook, Yelp, Trip Advisor and a Google business profile has also helped the Salazars draw new hungry visitors. The restaurant has nearly five stars on the platforms with hundreds of reviews.
“Those have really helped a lot,” Melissa Salazar said, adding that they get a lot of Interstate traffic as Las Cruces sprawls along both I-10 and I-25. “It’s real customers who come in and put their honest reviews on there. Word-of-mouth is always the best in promoting and it’s free.”
She said that it also helps that the restaurant is located in a historic district that has galleries, coffee shops, and other restaurants, that have developed over the years.
While they’ve wanted to throw in the towel, especially in the beginning, she said “giving it over to God” and loyal customers have helped keep them afloat to continue the legacy of one of Las Cruces’ go-to spots for more than six decades.
Her words of advice for new restaurant owners: “It won’t be easy but if you do it with your heart and just work hard, you can do it. It’s so easy to get distracted but focus on what you are doing and do it right. And again, God is number one for us – He’s what really helped us through. It gets frustrating and it gets tiring but every day He gives us the strength to keep going.”
Find them at www.lanuevacasitacafe.com.