23 June 2020

Abraham Mejia and SLC's First Mexican Restaurant

 Abraham Mejia ca 1900.
rom Ancestry user KMejiaBeplay.
This is Abraham Mejia (1864-1927) who established Salt Lake's first Mexican restaurant (Mexican-owned serving Mexican food).

The Mejia family was one of the first Latino families to take up permanent residence in SLC.

Abraham was born in Veracruz, Mexico and in his twenties he immigrated to the U.S., first settling in Texas (where he married) and Arkansas (where he operated a tamale stand) before moving to SLC in 1903.

If you remember from one of my previous posts, Otto Branning (SLC’s Chili King) established a chili parlor in SLC in 1903. But Branning was from Indiana and was of German descent, so I don’t think he qualifies as the first Mexican restaurant in SLC.

An oral history collected by one of Abraham’s grandchildren states that Abraham Mejia and Otto Branning were initially friends, and it was Branning who suggested that Abraham and his family move to SLC. It was Abraham who taught Branning how to make chili and tamales but Branning ousted Abraham out of the business and they became competitors.

By 1904 Abraham was making a name for himself and operating a lunch stand in front of the St Elmo Hotel on Main Street. He was known for his chili-con-carne, tamales, and oyster cocktail. In 1907 he operated the Eagle Gate CafĂ© at 44 E 100 South where he “guarantees to serve nothing but genuine Mexican dishes, short orders and all kinds of sandwiches.”

Abraham worked in the restaurant business off and on throughout the remainder of his life. In addition to running restaurants, he also served as an interpreter for the SLC courts and honorary Mexican consul. He died at his home in SLC in 1927.

Sources: The History Blazer Aug 1996; Mejia family records on ancestry.com
Abraham Mejia’s restaurant in SLC, early 1900s, possibly on
Commercial Street (now Regent St). From Ancestry user KMejiaBeplay.

Advertisement for Abraham Mejia's restaurant. From 1909 SLC Directory.

Update Jan 2021: Check out this SLC History Minute about Abraham Mejia

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