Martha Flores, 57, says she began her food business seven years ago selling snacks out of a small room in Central El Paso from 5 to 10 at night.
“It was corn in a cup, chilindrinas, papa locas, just the good stuff,” says Flores who two years ago expanded the business into a full-fledged restaurant on Montana Avenue named La Cocina de Martha.
“I had a dream–my dream was to have my own place, my own restaurant,” said Flores, who was born in Chihuahua, Mexico and moved to the United states with her family when she was a child. She graduated from Bel Air High School in 1978 and graduated with her bachelors degree in history from UTEP in 2000. She then accepted a full time day job as a property manager for a local business and ran her mom-and-pop food business at night.
But four years ago when the company closed, Flores, who is married and has two sons, had a decision to make.
“It’s now or never,” she said, adding that her decision was to transform the part time food business into an actual storefront restaurant.
“Even though its been a hard road, I love it. I want to have my restaurant until God decides otherwise. I work a lot, a lot of hours. Never in my life had I thought I was going to work so much… I love every customer that comes thru my door. I love every aspect of my business. I love it.”
Jerry Lyles, owner of an apartment complex next door to the restaurant, has been coming to eat at La Cocina de Marta for about two years.
“I have quite a few residents that will eat breakfast here. On Saturday’s they will have menudo and also in the evening,” he said.
Lyles says when Martha opened up they became good friends and it has been an on going friendship since. “Prices are very reasonable and the food is excellent.” Prices include torta’s for $4.50, burritos for $2.50 and breakfast plates for $4.75.
Martha’s menu is based on her background of “good homemade Mexican food,” she said “Everything is made from scratch and reminds me of my mother or grandmother.”
With business picking up, Flores has hired one cook three times a week and a waiter, as needed. The cook is required to follow Martha’s homemade recipes.
Cousins Juan and Joe Martinez are also regulars.
Juan Martinez was born and raised in El Paso and now lives in Van Horn. “I love it here. Every time I come to El paso I make an effort to come over here,” he said.
Joe Martinez is an Uber driver and also stops by Martha’s as often as he can. “I’ve been coming here since the elote’s first started. Great food, great snacks, and great for before partying and after.”
Flores said the building where her restaurant is located was built in 1916 and was an insurance office for 30 years. About four years ago when the company moved down the street, the owner of the property approached Flores and offered to sell her the property and finance the mortgage. She plans to pay it off in five years.
During a recent interview on a weekday afternoon after the lunch rush hour, an animated Flores, who was grateful to be speaking to a reporter, said: “I invite each and every one of you to come and eat at my place, this is going to be a homey experience, a homey meal, just like your mother, grandmother used to prepare.”