By Shanna Cummings
When Maggie Espinosa converted her hair salon into a restaurant five years ago, she had no idea it would become the little kitchen known around the world.
The restaurant off I-10 holds just a handful of tables and behind swinging doors like an old west saloon, a one-woman kitchen where Maggie Espinosa works her magic. All around the dining area, little glimpses of Maggie and husband Oscar’s life – family pictures, article clippings, gifts and mementos from friends, a tv in the corner tuned to an El Paso channel. And Oscar’s coffee mug collection.
Before Maggie and Oscar began welcoming people from around the world, they did some traveling of their own, touring Europe, Mexico and the southeast US. Everywhere they went, they picked up wares from street merchants as souvenirs. Oscar started collecting coffee mugs.
The collection – on display in the dining area – now fills a small curio case, a shelf on the wall over the counter, and a small hutch. Mugs from various US states, cities and attractions from all over the US, Mexico and Europe.
And yes, the mug from the Tower of Pisa in Italy leans.
Blue Origin employees congregate in Van Horn in the weeks leading up to a launch. Some put tables together in the dining room at Mom’s Kitchen and talk shop for a while around plates of tacos and enchiladas.
Social media was the magic element for Mom’s Kitchen. Early on, Maggie and Oscar’s grandson marked the restaurant on GoogleMaps and made a Facebook page so the restaurant would be easily found online. Travelers on I-10 found Mom’s Kitchen, enjoyed the food and left positive Yelp reviews. In February, these reviews attracted the notice of Shane McAuliffe, host of the online travel series The Texas Bucket List, on his way to review another restaurant in El Paso. After finishing his combo plate, he asked “Is Mom here?”
McAuliffe interviewed Maggie and Oscar, and ended up in the kitchen himself making one of Maggie’s combo plates with her. The restaurant was featured as Bite of the Week in February of 2020.
Soon after, Mom’s Kitchen began receiving guests who mentioned the Bucket List segment. First only Texas residents, because the show had a limited audience at the time. But when the Texas Bucket List joined YouTube, the audience reach exploded. Guests from all over the world – Venezuela, Australia, Germany, Panama, Brazil – started dropping by on their way to or from El Paso because they saw the Bucket List segment.
And then in July this year, Blue Origin began their manned launches featuring celebrity guests and passengers like William Shatner in October, and the Today show’s Michael Strahan in December. Media from all over the world converged on Van Horn for the events, filling hotels and restaurant seats. Yelp reviews and the GoogleMaps pin naming Mom’s “Top Rated” attracted the journalists and media teams.
The three-person family team operating Mom’s Kitchen was busy.
During the December launch, with the influx of out-of-town Blue Origin employees and news media, Mom’s Kitchen had a full dining area, and a line of hungry (but patient) guests that led down the block. Some guests chose to sit at the tables outside, enjoying the weather like Parisians at a sidewalk cafe.
But even with the increased guest numbers around launch dates, Maggie always makes her food fresh. It may take a bit longer, but guests say it’s worth the wait. Maggie and Oscar can even recognize their regular patrons by their orders, especially the ones who mix breakfast and lunch menu items like Carne Asada or Chili Verde with eggs.
Some guests have begun adding to the restaurant’s souvenir collections. Two guests from New York City mailed Maggie and Oscar a couple of NYC coffee mugs and a postcard. When the guests returned two months later, they made sure to take pictures with Maggie and the NYC mugs to commemorate. A guest from Australia left an Australian $5 bill as a tip. Little signs they were there, like pins in a map.
For now Maggie has no intention of expanding the dining room to fit more guests, though Oscar said around launch dates he might set up a canopy outside with tables and chairs for guests waiting for their seats inside.