A fresh start

Former La Chalupa owners open new Mexican restaurant in Hardin
Thursday, March 7, 2019

Photo by Luella N. Brien

Sofia Gomez scoops salsa into a small dish before delivering it to a customer at El Molcajete restaurant in Hardin. The Gomez family, who spent the last two years running a restaurant in Ashland, opened a new establishment on Center Avenue late last month.

Photo by Luella N. Brien

Micheal Gomez, 17, mixes beans in a large kitchen bucket. Gomez works in the kitchen at El Molcajete after school while his sisters Stephanie, 19, and Maria, 15, wait on tables. Molcajete are the traditional Mexican version of the mortar, a stone bowl used for grinding various food products. The pestle, or tejolete, is the implement used to grind ingredients in the bowl.

While the kitchen bustles with noises of productivity, Sophia Gomez floats across the dining area of El Molcajete restaurant greeting customers, delivering meals and refilling drinks.

The family-owned Hardin restaurant may have opened late last month, but Sophia said she and her husband Juan are finally home.

“People are glad to have us back and we are really happy,” Gomez said. “We enjoy our customers, we always have.”

Nearly a dozen customers lingered after the lunch rush last Friday, many stopping Gomez to visit.

Previously, the couple owned La Chalupa in Hardin at the Far West building on Crawford Avenue before moving it to Center Avenue. Two years ago, they took their recipes and renowned customer service to Ashland to run The Hitching Post.

“This is the first time I’ve been here since they’ve been back,” said Crow Agency resident Elizabeth Little Owl. “They are nice people; they are like family.”

Gomez greeted Little Owl with a hug and a warm smile when she, her husband Larny Little Owl Sr. and their kids came in for a late lunch.

Little Owl said her family used to eat at La Chalupa.

“We come in and they know all of us and our orders,” she said. “I love everything here, the food, the rice, everything.”

Lunch customer and Hardin resident Bill Hert said he and his wife Theresa also used to dine on the Gomez family’s cuisine when they were located at the Far West.

“Everything I’ve eaten is excellent,” he said.

“The food is consistently good and the owners are super friendly,” Theresa Hert, whose favorite dish is enchiladas, said. “We are glad to have them back.”

Two years in Ashland, 77 miles away, was difficult on the family, Gomez said. The children wanted to be with their friends and their school at Hardin – and the pull became too much – but the old La Chalupa location was occupied by another restaurant.

Gomez said her kids watched for rental properties in Hardin and notified her that their previous location recently had become vacant. A few calls to their old landlord Archie Hopes, and they were back in business in Hardin, ready for a fresh start at their old – and recently renovated – location.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Gomez said.

The Gomez family, including children Stephanie, 19; Micheal, 17; and Maria, 15, lived in Polson for years before moving to Hardin in 2005.

“My husband’s brother was going to Las Vegas, and he drove through this area and he stayed at a hotel in Hardin,” Gomez said. “He saw a sign in the Far West, and called my husband and told him it would be a good place to start a restaurant.”

The family moved to Hardin not knowing a soul in town, but it paid off, Gomez said. Now, Hardin is their hometown.

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