Local Obituaries

Mary Villar, Mexican food entrepreneur, kept Wichita fed for nearly 50 years

Mary Villar
Mary Villar

Mary Villar, longtime Wichita restaurant entrepreneur, matriarch of the Villar family and grand tamale, taco, Monterey and burrito maker has died.

Mrs. Villar died last Thursday. She was 84 years old.

A visitation will be will from 5 p.m. Wednesday; a rosary will begin at 6 p.m. Wednesday at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 201 S. Millwood, Wichita. Graveside service will be at Fairview cemetery in Hutchinson.

Funeral Mass will be on Thursday, January 11, 2018 at 10 a.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church with internment immediately following at Fairlawn Cemetery in Hutchinson.

Mrs. Villar was born April 13, 1933 in Hutchinson. She was one of 17 children.

She grew up cooking and working in food service and by the time she was 12, she was working at her father’s club, her son, William said. As a teenager, she worked as a nanny for several prominent Wichita doctors and the Coleman family.

“She was driven to East High School each day in a limousine,” her son said.

Beginning in the 1970s, she began running several Mexican restaurants. Her philosophy was to cook family recipes and incorporate family members in helping operate those restaurants. The Villar family operated nearly 15 Mexican restaurants in Wichita, Tulsa and Olathe for more than four decades. Mrs. Villar and her son, William opened El Mexico Cafe in 1976 at 2544 S. Seneca.

“We had locations all over – at the airport, at Broadway and Kellogg,” William Villar said. “She helped me open up several locations. We were known as the El Mexico family.”

In recent years, she would go daily to Mexico Cafe Delano at 555 W. Douglas where she helped prep meals.

She made diners feel welcome. And through the doors of her restaurants, people of all walks of life would come to eat Mexican food.

In 1979 during the annual National Conference of Christian and Jews meeting, she was presented the Brotherhood award for her leadership in helping bridge racial, ethnic and spiritual cultural divides. TV commentator Charles Kuralt presented the award.

And, in 1981, the Wichita chapter of Professional Women in Communications presented her with the Matrix award for her leadership contributions within the community.

Mrs. Villar is survived by her three children; William Villar, Ruth Presley and Benjamin (Kim) Villar, siblings, Rose McElrey, Anna Christensen, Angie Nash and Ralph Espinosa; 14 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, a memorial has been established with the St. Joseph Catholic Church.

Beccy Tanner: 316-268-6336, @beccytanner