It’s already a well-known fact in these parts that Las Cruces has some of the best Mexican food restaurants on the planet. Maybe it’s the proximity to both the international border and Hatch, the “chile capitol of the world,” but the secret is slowly seeping out and the rest of the country is finally catching up with what denizens of the Mesilla Valley have always known.
So, it should come as no surprise that, for the second year in a row, the owners of a locally-owned restaurant have been named Restaurateurs of the Year by the New Mexico Restaurant Association. On hand to accept their award Monday, Sept. 23, at the 2013 Hospitality Industry Awards in Albuquerque, were Tom and Jerean Hutchinson, owners of La Posta de Mesilla.
“This is an award that we share with our entire staff,” said Jerean Hitchinson. “We have 110 great employees and it’s a tribute to them as well.”
“There are a lot of deserving people in this state” Tom Hutchinson added. “There are a lot of good operators that do a lot of good things for their communities and we’re just fortunate that it was our turn.”
In existence since 1946, the NMRA promotes the food service industry in New Mexico and represents more than 1,000 member restaurants, which are also dual members of the National Restaurant Association. The Restaurateur of the Year award is the NMRA’s highest honor.
What may come as a surprise is that the Hutchinsons were nominated for this award by competitors in their field, Jerry Harrell, general manager of Double Eagle (whose owner Buddy Ritter was last year’s award winner) and Ed Linderman, Las Cruces franchise owner of Village Inn, Applebees and the Corner Bakery. Tom Hutchinson doesn’t really view it as a competition.
“When we talk about Ed and Jerry, we’re really talking about peers,” he said. “We don’t even see them as competitors. Sure, we have different restaurants, we offer products at different prices, but the reality is, we’re all very respectful of what each has accomplished over the years.”
The Hutchinson’s restaurant, La Posta de Mesilla, is a landmark in the Mesilla Valley, having been in existence since September 1939, when Jerean Hutchinson’s great aunt Katy Griggs Camuñez began serving food made from family recipes in the pre-Civil War adobe that had previously served as the Butterfield Stagecoach Line stop and hotel. Boasting such legendary patrons as Billy the Kid, Kit Carson, Pancho Villa, President Ulysses S. Grant, and General Douglas McArthur, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places.
As overshadowing as that history may be, it’s La Posta’s menu – made up of recipes which have been handed down for over a hundred years – combined with decades of local relationships that are the real draw.
“We have relationships with Chavez farms, off Shalem Colony Road, going back over forty years,” Jerean Hutchinson said. “That’s where we still get our red chile. We get our green chile from Hatch down to the Biad farms for probably the last forty, fifty years. We’ve even found a way to use Mesilla Valley pecans. We believe in supporting our local industries.”
Because of this longstanding tradition of excellence and the Hutcinson’s dedication to preserving both the culture and the history of the restaurant, La Posta de Mesilla has received many honors over the years. It was recently named one of the Top 10 Great Mexican Restaurants Across the USA by USA Today and was listed as one of New Mexico’s culinary treasures, “that have stood the test of time,” by the New Mexico Tourism Department.
To celebrate these accomplishments and others like them, the NMRA awards ceremony took place at the Route 66 Hotel and Casino in Albuquerque, where Gov. Suzana Martinez presented the award to the Hutcinsons. That same evening, another Las Cruces resident, Collette Caskie, was given the Front of the House Employee Excellence Award. Caskie works at a relative newcomer to the fine dining landscape of Las Cruces, De La Vega’s Pecan Grill & Brewery.
“I think it says a lot for the caliber of the restaurants in southern New Mexico,” said Jerean Hutchinson. “I think we rival anywhere in the state and the country. It’s wonderful to share this year’s honor with De La Vega’s. It shows we, as a city, continue to have a lot to offer.”