Written by Daniel Gonzales • Photography by Amanda Chavez and courtesy La Posta
La Posta de Mesilla has deep roots in our community and is part of the fabric of life in the Mesilla Valley. On September 16, 2019, the restaurant will celebrate the 80th anniversary of the day Katy Griggs opened her little chile joint. From all accounts, Katy was a one-of-a-kind person with an over-thetop personality, a generous heart, and fearless attitude. All of these attributes, and a loving uncle, gave Katy the start to what would become an institution in the Mesilla Valley and a national landmark. In 1939, Edgar Griggs, Katy’s aforementioned uncle, sold her the property that would become La Posta for “one dollar, love, and affection.” On September 16, 1939, Katy opened for business with four tables and a dirt floor.
Katy’s mother cooked in the same room with no running water. It is said that on opening day, there was a line out the door and the food that was made from century-old recipes was remarkable. Katy herself was an innovator, and creator of her own traditions. On that first day, Katy welcomed her guests with tostadas and chile, something that is believed to be a first in the Mesilla Valley. This tradition is now something expected by every guest when they walk into a Mexican restaurant. Katy is also credited with creating the tostada compuesta, which is a crispy corn tortilla cup filled with your favorite meat or beans and, of course, chile. Katy’s attention to detail created a comfortable and inviting experience for her guests. Her love and affection were apparently not restricted to her uncle, as it shines through with the care she took preparing her food and serving her guests.
Over the years, the building that was once a Butterfield stagecoach stop and the Corn Exchange Hotel grew into a successful restaurant, and continued to expand. As La Posta grew, they hired more employees to cook, serve, and service the grounds. Employees are almost always an extension of their employer, and the mark of a well-run business is employee loyalty. Many of the employees that Katy hired were with La Posta for years. Five such employees have been honored en memoriam throughout the La Posta halls for the anniversary: Elisa “Licha” Carnero Gallegos is the most recent La Posta “familia” to pass away. She worked in the kitchen of La Posta for over 45 years. Licha could do anything in the kitchen, was respected by her fellow employees, and acted as Katy’s caregiver in Katy’s last days. Juanita Nieto was always known as the bestdressed lady at the annual La Posta Christmas party, but even better known for her delicious homemade empanadas, sopapillas, and desserts. She loved tending to her plants and spending time with her family. Everado “Gilito” Lopez was also known as the piranha and bird man because of his passion for tending to his famous fish and feathered fellows. Gilito worked for La Posta for 25 years, and, like many of the others on this list, could do a little of everything. Lopez also loved to sing and was an avid Aggie fan. Manuel “Rucho” Chavez began to work for La Posta in the 1950s and his tenure was over 50 years at the historic restaurant.
Rucho had many duties around the restaurant, but his claim to fame was making the beautiful ristras that adorned La Posta’s interior and exterior. Last on this list, but certainly not least, is Francisca “Panchita” Flores. Panchita became head cook of La Posta in 1972, and with a staff of no more than three, she prepared enough food to accommodate 600 –1,000 guests a day. She finally retired in 2006, and in that year she was recognized by the New Mexico Restaurant Association as Cook of the Year. “Honoring the past, and the tradition, is always important to continuing Katy’s chile joint,” say Jerean Hutchinson, while showing off the “La Posta familia” alumni. She chuckles and shakes her head while gazing at her greataunt Katy’s photograph. “She was ahead of her time, just a remarkable lady.”
Katy Griggs Camuñez passed away in 1993, and three years later, her great-niece Jerean Camuñez Hutchinson and Jerean’s husband, Tom Hutchinson, acquired the property and business. Both Tom and Jerean have had successful and influential careers besides La Posta. Tom is a retired navy captain and Jerean is in the NMSU College of Business Hall of Fame. Still, with all of their accomplishments, they have continued the traditions set forth by Katy. The tradition of innovating and improving the restaurant with careful details and progressive practices has continued with this branch of the family tree. The navy connection extends to U.S. Navy submarine SSN 779, where you will find a galley named after this little chile joint in the small town of Mesilla.
That’s right, there is a La Posta kitchen serving food to brave sailors aboard the USS New Mexico far under the surface of the ocean. Employee loyalty is still a part of the La Posta way today. Many of the executive management team have worked for La Posta for years. La Posta has been awarded many accolades over the years for both the food and cocktail programs. La Posta was the first restaurant in the state of New Mexico to adopt the Patron Anejo Barrel Select program, and years later has at least 10 different barrels of tequila that are unique to La Posta and La Posta alone (not to mention the hundreds of other tequilas that decorate the back bar). Tradition is not born, but is forged over years and generations with repetition and enthusiasm.
La Posta may have started out just being a little chile joint, but it has become part of the tradition of the Mesilla Valley. The building has changed its exterior and décor over the past 80 years, but the heart remains true. While the precious recipes that have been passed down from the Chávez, Fountain, and Griggs families will continue to be made for future generations, the tradition lies not with the food, but with the people who make and serve it, and the experience guests get the second they walk into La Posta. The most important tradition that Katy passed on — the one that Tom and Jerean continue every day — shows in the food, staff, and customers alike and is the one that Edgar demanded from his niece over 80 years ago: the tradition of love and affection.