An old friend died and I’m mourning the loss.
Los Alamos Café, owned and operated by the Gallegos family since 1959 on North Main Street, closed its doors yesterday.
Decreasing profits in recent years prompted the owners, brothers Alex and Alfred Gallegos, to pull the plug.
“Pull the plug” is a fitting analogy because it almost feels like a decision of that magnitude was made. Some regulars have been eating there for 51 years.
“I’m totally shocked,” said Louis Zapata, the first Hispanic city councilman in Fort Worth and a Los Alamos customer since the beginning. “They’re a good old family that’s been a pillar of the community.”
(Confession: I, too, had been a regular since 1989. Regular, as in several times a week. By my estimate, I’ve spent almost $40,000 there – quite a total at $7 per visit.
“How can you eat at the same place every day?” people used to ask me.
Well, the Tex-Mex menu was good, the prices fair, and the décor quaint in a dive sort of way. Fort Worth Star-Telegram food critic Bud Kennedy gave the restaurant props a couple times, and Fort Worth Weekly gave them about a half-dozen Best Of Critic’s Choice Awards over the years for menudo, salse verde, lunch specials, and the outstanding service of waitress Norma Rodriguez, who charmed customers for 15 years. (I may have had something to do with those awards.)
Los Alamos – “LA” — may have been a hole in the wall, but it was a second home to me. Hell, it was a second office. I’ve had many business meetings there over the years, including lunches and interviews with Former Speaker of the House Jim Wright, Willie Nelson biographer Joe Nick Patoski, and Linda “Texas Lil” Arnold.
The owners were nice and friendly, and knew when to chat you up and when to leave you alone. They remembered customers’ names and made people feel welcome. The restaurant felt more like a living room, with a TV turned to CNN, the day’s newspaper available for reading, and sunlight streaming through the windows.
Alfred was the fun-loving owner, surfing the internet for dates and feeding the feral cats out back. Alex was more grounded, talking about sports, news, and weather.
Even though I ate there more than most customers, I was a rookie compared to others. Grammy–winning musician Frank Cagigal (keyboardist for Little Joe y la Familia) ate there for breakfast and lunch on most days.
Back in the 1960s, the owner of a nearby recording studio used to take musicians there for lunch and beers, a young Willie Nelson among them.
Though customers remained loyal, a new generation of diners gravitated to the tidier, shinier restaurants that have been popping up on North Main Street in the the last decade.
“Los Alamos was not picking up new clientele because they were pretty well set in their menu,” Zapata said. “Nowadays people are looking for different things. There are so many new restaurants opening up. Normally competition is good. It generates more people. In this case, they must have not changed enough to deal with the younger clientele and didn’t pick up their share.”
Yesterday, the doors were locked and a note hung on the door telling customers that LA was closed. Inside, Alex was sitting near the cash register, looking forlorn but relieved. The drop-off in business, a need for kitchen renovations, and rising food costs were making it harder than ever to turn a profit.
“It was costing me money to stay open,” he said.
Most of all, he’ll miss his regular customers and the sense of community shared by so many in that small, homey restaurant with the tile floors, ceiling fans, and Mexican blankets for curtains.
Vaya con dios old friend.