The Spenard location closes its doors after 42 years of business
ANCHORAGE - La Mex has a rich history in Anchorage. Shirley Johnson and her husband Ray founded the restaurant in 1969 and proudly proclaimed it “Home of the Grande.”
“We started out in Mountain View in a little log cabin that’s no longer there,” said Shirley Johnson. “I used to go to work at noon, come in and check the register then I’d go back to work on base.”
She flew up from the Lower 48 to say goodbye to the Spenard location, which is closing its doors after 42 years.
Shirley’s daughter Trina took over the business years ago. Trina said she has a lot of great memories from growing up in the restaurant world.
“I would play in the restaurant and make hot chocolate and I had a G.I. Joe I would play with and make a zip line across the restaurant,” laughed Trina.
On Friday — the second-to-last day of business — the bartenders were busy making hundreds of margaritas.
It’s a job Shirley held for years and she remembers some cranky customers.
“The bartender served a margarita to a gentleman in this second room that we call the Margarita Room,” she said. “He sent it back and said, ‘This is not the margarita I want. I want Shirley to make my margarita.’ So I went back behind the bar and pretended. I took his same drink, poured it in a new glass, touched it up, made it look like I did it. He said, ‘Now that’s a margarita!’ Those are the things I remember as being fun.”
During the lunch rush Trina took to waiting tables and making drinks. Her sister and niece pitched in when business picked up even more. It seemed like the old days again, Trina said.
“My sister started when she was 14 as well in the Mountain View location washing dishes,” she reminisced. “I started when I was 14 at this location. That history, you can’t get away from that history.”
Customers couldn’t escape it either. Brenda Staats had been coming to La Mex twice a week since 1981.
“This was the first place I came on a date with my husband,” Staats said. “We’ve been married 23 years and this is the first date we had.”
Jennifer Howard grew up coming to the restaurant with her grandmother. She brought her family in for one last meal.
“We used to come here and do family dinners with my grandparents and my aunts and uncles. Just a lot of good memories. I called my parents and said we should go have lunch before they close down,” Howard said.
La Mex in Spenard may be closing it doors, but customers will always remember the good times … unless they had one too many Grandes.