Entrepreneurs in Española
In 1958, two boys, Lorenzo and Pedro Atencio, took advantage of their mom’s exceptional culinary skills by generating cash during their summer breaks selling her tacos and tamales. At that time, the price for a taco was 15 cents and the price for a tamale was 10 cents.
The boy’s ambitious enterprise was successful and evolved quickly. Their dad, Luis Atencio set them up with a table on a busy corner near the family home. Luis provided shade for the boys using a large, multi-colored umbrella. The boys ran from car to car selling tacos and tamales to the hungry drivers that lined up. In the meantime, their mother, Frances Atencio, worked diligently to supply them.
Frances’ delicious comfort food became extremely popular in the Española valley. Locals referred to the Atencio’s seasonal venture as “The Stand,” with members of the community urging the family to open a year round establishment. The boy’s father, Luis Atencio, a plumber by profession, heeded his neighbor’s request. Luis converted a small camping trailer into a taco wagon, thereby creating New Mexico’s first food truck.
The Taco Wagon gained a reputation and a large, loyal following, with people traveling from all over northern New Mexico to buy food. Later, the family adopted the umbrella as their logo to make sure locals knew that this was the Atencio family business and that they could expect the same outstanding food that had made the initial roadside stand so popular.
Food Truck to Restaurant
Within one year the family received so much support from the community that they expanded. Luis added a bar in his plumbing shop next door to the restaurant, becoming a plumber by day and a bartender by night. He quickly became friends with most of the population of northern New Mexico. Fortunately, as the business grew, the family did as well. In time, Frances’ daughters, Dorothy, Olga and Maria, joined their mom in the kitchen, helping her keep up with the growing demand.
The family continued to expand the restaurant over the years, expanding the seating capacity. The entire Atencio family participated. The boys helped their father collect the stones used on the building’s facade. The family garden plot became a parking lot. Building materials were salvaged from a variety of sources; the railroad, Archbishop Lamy’s property, the Santa Fe prison, etc. It was Luis and Frances’ lifelong project, one that their children continue today.
Community and Cuisine
This family business is about more than a restaurant. It is about more than food. It is a place for the community to gather, to celebrate, to enjoy good food, and good service from a family that has been a part of the community since the arrival of their Spanish ancestors centuries ago. The two ambitious boys, and their siblings, are adults now, with families of their own. Together, they have continued to expand the family business, with their children and grand children getting involved.
The next generation is carrying on their grandparent’s legacy of outstanding food and exceptional service. El Paragua can seat over 150 and has become one of the go-to places for fantastic food in the Española valley. Though the original Taco Wagon was retired, the Atencio family continues to provide delicious, affordable fare via six El Parasol locations in Española, Pojoaque, Santa Fe and Los Alamos.
El Paragua’s Chicken Chalupa
- 4 corn tortillas
- Vegetable oil
- 1 cup refried beans
- 1 cup shredded chicken
- A fresh tomato, diced
- 1 cup grated cheese
- 1 cup guacamole
- 4 Tablespoons sour cream
- Heat vegetable oil in skillet. You can tell if the oil is ready to fry by inserting a wooden spoon into the oil. The oil will bubble around the stick when it is ready. Alternately, you can use a popcorn kernel. It will pop between 325 and 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Fry the corn tortillas until they are crisp. Drain the excess oil and place on an oven proof plate.
- Spread the refried beans over the tortilla to cover them and top with chicken and cheese.
- Bake or broil in the oven until the cheese is melted.
- Quickly cover with guacamole, lettuce, diced tomato and sour cream. Garnish with black olives, an onion ring and dust with paprika. Serve immediately.
Please leave your recipe modifications and/or questions in the comments below.