Dining With Denise Neil

Diners, owners struggle with emotions during restaurant’s final week

Cortez Mexican Restaurant’s final day in business is Saturday. It has been serving Wichita for 32 years.
Cortez Mexican Restaurant’s final day in business is Saturday. It has been serving Wichita for 32 years. The Wichita Eagle

The countdown has begun, and Mary and Enrique Cortez are finding it difficult to keep their emotions in check.

At the end of business on Saturday, the couple will close their Cortez Mexican Restaurant at 29th and Broadway, ending chapter of their lives that has lasted for 32 years.

Longtime customers are not taking it well.

Mary Cortez described a parade of mourners over the past couple of weeks.

“We’ve had grown men putting their heads on Enrique's shoulder crying, kids jumping in my arms saying ‘promise me you won't close,’” she said. “We’ve had customers bringing in old pictures of family dinners wanting us to sign them, people asking for an old menu from when they first started coming in.”

The outpouring has steeled the couple’s resolve to reopen sooner rather than later.

They announced their Feb. 18 closing date in December. The couple needs a break, they said, and they need time to do things non-restaurant people do, like paint their house.

They also need to sell the building at 29th and Broadway, which has been on the market for some time. Once they’ve had some time off and get that building sold, they’ll likely start looking for a new location, Mary Cortez said.

“At first, Ricky was saying, ‘Oh, I don’t know. It’s going to be a couple of years,’” she said. “But now he’s down to four to six months before we start looking for another location.”

In the meantime, the Cortezes plan to continue catering, and the Cortez space will be available to rent for parties and other events. They’ll also continue to open their restaurant as a nightclub venue on Friday and Saturday nights.

Once they’ve had a short break, Mary said, they might also start selling enchiladas, Enrique specials and other favorite dishes to go on the weekends. Customers should watch the restaurant’s Facebook page for details.

“We’ll do like four or five different orders,” she said. “That way, our customers can still get their little fix.”

Cortez hours for the rest of the week are 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. today, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 to 9 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Saturday. The restaurant will offer its buffet on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.

On closing night, Saturday, a mariachi band will be in the restaurant at 6:30 to serenade customers. Cortez also will offer $3 margaritas on closing night.