By MIKE COOK
Las Cruces Bulletin
“We pay the bills and keep it up, but it belongs to the community,” Tom Hutchinson said recently about La Posta Restaurant, which he owns with his wife, Jerean.
La Posta has been an icon on the Mesilla Plaza for almost 80 years – the historic adobe architecture (or “Mexican chic,” as Jerean calls some of it), the entryway lined with gift shops, the exotic birds and even piranhas, more than 100 tequila varieties, the fixtures and artwork from the interior of Mexico and the authentic Mexican and Southwestern cuisine.
But the Hutchinsons haven’t been sitting on their laurels since buying the restaurant in March 1996. A major expansion five years ago – encompassing La Posta founder Katy Griggs Camunez’s wood shop and private home – increased the size of the restaurant to 17,000 square feet, Tom said.
Additions included the Adobe Cantina and Tequileria and another banquet room, plus the Pecan Tree Courtyard and its large, outdoor fountain. There are now 13 dining rooms of various sizes, including the Blacksmith, the Guadalupe, the School Room, the Fiesta, Katy’s Blue Room and the everpopular Lava Room.
“Twenty years ago, we made a conscious decision to invest,” Tom said. “It’s been good for us.”
La Posta also started serving breakfast on weekends several years ago because “people on the plaza were looking for coffee and a bite to eat,” Tom said.
“It’s changed but it hasn’t changed,” Jerean said.
La Posta’s menu continues to feature the same authentic recipes from the Griggs, Chavez and Fountain families that it always has, Jerean said.
And, the chile that goes into its salsas and sauces is harvested from the same local fields.
“We don’t have chefs, we have cooks, like Grandma’s kitchen,” she said. Many of the restaurant’s 110 full- and part-time staff are members of families that have worked at La Posta for three or four generations, Tom Hutchinson said.
La Posta’s 20-foot adobe walls date back to the 1840s – you can still see part of the original structure near the new bar on the east side of the restaurant. Some windows and exterior doors show the Greek revival features of the Territorial-style architecture that was popular in the mid-1800s.
The building served as a headquarters for the Confederate army during the Civil War, and was the Corn Exchange Hotel later in the century.
La Posta is actually a “series of adobe buildings connected over time,” said Jerean, who is Katy Camunez’s great-niece.
“It was never designed to be a restaurant in the first place,” she said.
In 1939, Katy Griggs would “acquire the northwest corner of what is now the La Posta compound from her Uncle Edgar Griggs for ‘one dollar love and affection,’” according to laposta-de-mesilla.com.
“With just four tables on a dirt floor, her mother cooking in the back of the same room with no running water, Katy started her La Posta Café.”
Katy Camunez was one of the first restaurant owners to offer tostadas and chile to her guests, and she created the first tostada compuesta, Tom said.
Today, La Posta’s newest banquet room includes state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment and even a hidden projector. And, the Hutchinsons will soon be selling their trademark salsa by the bottle.
Katy also brought the first parrots and cockatoos to the restaurant.
Today, there are six birds in the restaurant’s famous lobby. The oldest, Frodo, had a stroke not long ago, Tom said, but is now “rehabilitating in our office where we can monitor his progress, diet and administer medicine.”
There are also three piranhas ranging in age from 10 to 15 in tanks near in the lobby. The oldest, a male without a name, swims by himself.
He’s blind and has few teeth, but “he bounces back,” Tom said.
La Posta serves about 325,000 customers a year, Tom said. Most are there for a meal and/or a margarita, but some take the self-guided tour to see the history and art in each room. You can see the signatures of visitors from across the country and around the world in the lobby guestbook.
“The people have carried us for 75 years,” Tom Hutchinson said.
La Posta is located at 2410 Calle De San Albino in Mesilla. The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, from 11 a.m. until 9:30 p.m. on Friday, from 8 a.m. t0 9:30 p.m.
on Saturday and from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, call 575-524-3524. Visit ww.laposta-de-mesilla.com and find them on Facebook under La Posta de Mesilla Restaurant.
Mike Cook can be reached at email@example.com.