Sprucing Up a Beloved New Mexico Restaurant
Jerean Camuñez Hutchinson and her husband, Thomas Hutchinson, never imagined they’d be running a popular restaurant near her hometown of Las Cruces, New Mexico. In 1996, however, an opportunity arose to purchase La Posta de Mesilla, started in 1939 by Jerean’s great-aunt.
They decided to move back to the area, with their three young children in tow, and have owned and operated La Posta ever since. The couple received $40,000 in 2021 from the Backing Historic Small Restaurants Grant Program created by the National Trust and American Express as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. We spoke with the Hutchinsons about La Posta’s history and the work they’ve done with the grant.
Thomas: I think to really get an appreciation for the restaurant’s beginnings, you’ve got to understand our little village, Mesilla, New Mexico. If you look back to the mid-1800s, it was a major stop on the Butterfield stagecoach line. It sits on the Rio Grande and was a place of trade and commerce.
The town flourished for many years in that capacity until the railroad came through the West, and the folks here chose not to allow it to come through the town. Mesilla shrunk back into a village and has stayed that way for [a] century and a half. The buildings in and around the plaza still maintain their look from many decades ago, when everything was constructed from adobe.
Jerean: One of the beauties of the buildings around the town square is that they are on the National Register as part of a historic district. Mesilla is pretty special.
Thomas: If you were to pull back the roof of La Posta, you’d see a series of buildings constructed over time. We started as a small building on the southeast corner of the plaza in the 1840s. From the mid-1800s to the early 1900s the space was expanded and used in a variety of capacities.
Jerean: Katy Griggs Camuñez started La Posta in 1939 with about four tables, dirt floors, no running water, and her mother and grandmother cooking in the kitchen. On 16 de septiembre, which is Mexican Independence Day, she opened her doors for the first time and was greeted by a welcoming of the community.
She ran out of food. It was quite the undertaking for a 25-year-old at the time. Katy’s first husband was my great-uncle, Ernesto Camuñez, and so we like to say as we move forward into the next realm of La Posta that it’s still all in the family.
Thomas: Our challenge is that our compound wasn’t designed to be a restaurant. It’s got age working against it, so it’s always a challenge for us to keep it up and running.
Jerean: The pandemic has been tough, but during that time we’ve used the Backing Historic Small Restaurants grant to freshen up the whole outside of the building. We refurbished the stucco, restored the exterior woodwork, and repainted the exterior.
Right now, I’m looking at the building, and it puts a smile on my face that all of a sudden we look vibrant. Another thing that the grant allowed us to do was to purchase chile ristras once again. These are the [dried] red chile peppers that are all strung together, which we use as a part of the building’s decor.
Also, we had always wanted to bottle our salsa. The grant provided us with some of the funds to be able to do that. We’re currently doing it in-house on a very small scale, but for 2022 we have plans to make that a viable commercial business stream.
A significant part of La Posta for me is that this is a family business. And I don’t just mean my husband and me, but your employees become part of your family.
Jerean: And then we do have the birds and the piranha. Katy first brought those in, probably in the 1950s, and they have traditionally been a source of enjoyment for families.
The kids come in and look at da Vinci and Picasso, our blue and red macaws. We have Sugar, our white cockatoo. And we have some talking parrots. It’s all been part of the culture of La Posta.