By Kathy Ritchie | Photo by Paul Markow
Many restaurants claim to serve home-cooked meals, but they don't. They order frozen or heavily processed foods, reheat them and serve them up — "just like your grandma used to make."
The opposite is true at the Chile Pepper in Yuma. The food that comes out of this kitchen is 100 percent grandma's recipe. But you might not know it at first glance. Tucked away in a nondescript strip mall, the place looks more like a high school cafeteria. The brightly colored community table near the back seems out of place in a sea of green plastic chairs and laminate café tables.
Of course, the Chile Pepper has never been about appearances. People come here strictly for the food, and they'll tell you that the bean-and-cheese burritos are the best around — they're even better on Wednesdays, when the price is marked down from $2.39 to $1.59.
"People come in and buy $300 worth of bean-and-cheese burritos," says Mary Lou Huff, partner (with her late brother, Gilbert, whom she called the restaurant's "backbone") and daughter of the Chile Pepper's founders, Juan and Bessie Gutierrez. "My mom was one of those gals who said, 'My mission is to feed people good food, and we have to make it affordable, so keep those prices down!' "
Since opening the Chile Pepper in 1956 — it's since been relocated to its current location — the Gutierrez family has adhered to Bessie's mantra of keeping prices low without sacrificing quality. Everything is made from scratch using the best possible ingredients. More than 420 dozen flour tortillas are hand-stretched every day, while corn is ground six days a week to create the 630 dozen — give or take — corn tortillas needed to satisfy the restaurant's hungry patrons. At the end of each night, pounds of beans cook slowly, so the cooks who come in at 5:30 a.m. can start preparing breakfast burritos. Even the beef machaca is made fresh daily.
"I love the fact that it's the same food [my mom] started making when she opened the Chile Pepper," Huff says. "I love that it's the same food I grew up with."
Although Bessie Gutierrez passed away last year, her legacy lives on. Besides the Chile Pepper, the family also owns another Yuma eatery, and Juan and Bessie's grandchildren and great-grandchildren work at the Chile Pepper and its sister restaurant.
"She was so committed, and she saw her vision materialize," Huff says. "We want to continue doing what she started — not only for our parents, but for our community."
The Chile Pepper is located at 1030 W. 24th Street in Yuma. For more information, call 928-783-4213 or visit www.bgfamilyltdpartnership.com.