Lupe’s Diner gives hope to family that lost home in Santa Rosa wildfires

Ricardo Ibarra
Written by Ricardo Ibarra

[Spanish version]

When Lupe and Carlos Licea, 54 and 55 years old, met at Healdsburg High School as teenagers in the late 1970s, they never imagined that they would date, get married, have two children, buy a house, open their own business and that the home that they built from years of work would be reduced to ashes during the fires that devastated more than 3,000 structures in Santa Rosa in the October wildfires.

“We saw it from Mexico City through the cell phone,” Carlos Licea said while sitting at one of the tables at his Lupe’s Mexican Diner restaurant located in Windsor Town Green. Carlos could see how the flames consumed his home thanks to security cameras linked to his mobile and to the phone call warnings he was receiving from his sons.

Almost four months after the disaster, the land where his house was propped up is now free of debris and ash and is ready to be rebuilt. The house, according to Carlos will be similar to the previous one, “maybe a little wider and more to our taste,” he said.

The business the couple started together 13 years ago has allowed them to keep the perspective of the future. With Lupe’s serving Jalisco-style foods since November 2003, the Licea family  —with the other two members, Carlos Luis, 32, and Juan Joel with 24— feed the diners who come to enjoy their classic fajitas, tacos, burritos, birria … and also nourish the hope of being together under the same roof again.

When one of her sons called her at dawn on October 8 in Mexico City, Lupe Licea gave precise instructions about what they had to safeguard: the testament and the album with photographs of her wedding. “I already had it with important papers, so it was easy for them to find it and take it out,” said Lupe.

While Lupe Licea’s family is from Jalisco and Carlos’ is from Michoacán, the influence in the kitchen of Lupe’s Mexican Diner was set. She did not always want to open the restaurant. She had a life as a professional as an office manager at Syar Industries. He was a Comcast employee. “I would tell him, why look for problems? We have our jobs,” said Lupe.

But he insisted. After a year of throwing around the idea, he met the right people: a cook and a real estate agent. With their support, the Licea opened the restaurant with a Jalisco style kitchen and a culinary commitment in tacos, burritos, birria, green chile, carne asada, molcajetes.

“We did what we knew. She is from Tepatitlán (Jalisco) and there were many cooks from that area. I only knew how to cook in my house and we started with something small and we’ve done very well. It keeps us busy,” said Carlos.

Carlos Luis and Juan Joel, their two sons born in Windsor, began to help in the kitchen. “We are a family business; we grew up in Windsor and the local community supports us a lot. We have clients that we saw pregnant and now it is the children who come on their own. Our strength is that we are very sociable and we are here 95 percent of the time,” said Carlos.

The joint work effort from Carlos and Lupe has also been key to their success, they said. With her administrative experience and his focus on maintaining the place, both give energy to each other. “Sometimes we do not agree much, but at the end we make the decisions.”

One of those decisions was the recent purchase and expansion of the restaurant to which they also added a bar called Agave Bar, which serves cocktails made with tequila and mescal.

Despite the intense competition in Windsor Town Green, Carlos trusts his products and services. “We are the only Mexican restaurant here. We always seek to maintain and improve it.”

Lupe’s Mexican Diner is located at 710 McClelland Dr., Windsor. Open every day from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. See the full menu at LupesDiner.com.

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Reach La Prensa Sonoma’s Editor Ricardo Ibarra at 707-526-8501 or email ricardo.ibarra@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ricardibarra.

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