Mexicali Restaurants - History

Santos Gamez was born in Durango Mexico in 1898. He came to Bakersfield in 1913 and began working for the railroad. Santos believed that if he started his own business and persevered, he could make it a success. Saving up his money, he was eventually able to purchase a piece of property on Baker Street. Here he built, with his own hands, a gas station and later a tortilla factory. It was on this site, in 1939, where he and his wife Trinidad founded Mexicali Restaurants.

Initially, the restaurant was a hot dog and snow-cone stand during the summer months, but it grew to become a malt shop serving hamburgers and malts. One day they began selling enchiladas and tacos made by Trinidad, and found they were very popular with the customers.

Business was going well so they decided to enclose the building and made it into a restaurant with booths. So in 1953 they opened the first Mexicali Restaurant. The Gamez girls (Ruth, Rachel, Lillie, and Esther) worked as waitresses, while their mom did the cooking. She was always in the kitchen inventing new dishes and sauces. Santos was responsible for upkeep-carpentry and maintaining things like plumbing and electricity.

The Gamezes' expanded, leasing several properties before buying the building which would house their second family-owned restaurant. It was at 631 18th Street in downtown Bakersfield, and the establishment still operates today 50 years later.

This was the first dining restaurant where they were able to do their own designing and architecture. They closed there leased properties and turned the Baker Street building into a self serve restaurant.

The Gamez daughters continued to become increasingly involved with restaurant operations. In 1967, they opened their third location at 3303 Niles Street. In 1968 they closed down the Baker Street location as a self-service restaurant. It then became the centralized kitchen and main office for Mexicali.

In 1976 Mexicali took on its biggest project with the opening of its newest location, at 5601 California Ave. By this time the third generation (Sonny, Kenny, Gloria, and Irene) was involved in the business, and Rachel and Lillie took over operations at the Main office. During this time Santos and Trinidad continued to be involved with the restaurants, and would be seen working on a daily basis.

Mexicali continues to be a family owned and operated business, and now has the fifth generation working in the restaurants. There are currently two locations in operation, along with the Main office, and centralized kitchen still at the original location on Baker Street. The owners of Mexicali have always prided themselves on working hard, and providing their customers with top quality food and outstanding service, and will continue to live by this philosophy set forth by Santos and Trinidad Gamez.

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