WANITA JONES STARTED WORKING AS A WAITRESS at El Camino Family Restaurant, in Socorro, in 1991. For more than two decades, she served up tasty Frito pie, triple-decker Monte Cristo sandwiches, and other throwback fare to locals, hungry travelers, and New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology students. When owner Mehrdad Moradi wanted to step back, Jones stepped up. “We changed hats, and I became the owner,” she says. Little else has changed at the diner since it opened in 1963, including the original neon sign overlooking the city’s main drag.
EVERY WEEK WE GET PEOPLE COMING IN. They say, “Look at this place,” and take pictures. I think a lot of the interior is still the original stuff, like the chandeliers. People say our lounge is like stepping back in time. We try to leave it as it was because people in town ask us to.
It makes me feel wonderful to own the restaurant. We’re here to please people. It’s wonderful to get compliments. But the second I take something off the menu, people say, “What did you take that off for?” If we do one little thing different in our recipes, I hear about it.
Everything is homemade—our soups, our hamburgers. Our favorite item is our chile cheese fries. The New Mexico Tech students have to get those. People love our New Mexican fare—our rellenos, our carne adovada. We make our red and green chile fresh every day.
I did this to bring all three of my daughters into the restaurant. Right now, my daughter Pam is the day manager, and my youngest daughter, Jaden, is the night manager. When Covid-19 started, we talked about shutting down. But my daughters said we need to do all we can to make this restaurant work so we can bring our children into the business, work together, and build for our future.
Read more: Socorro Herrera operates her namesake restaurant in the home where she was born.