“Faith, family and food” are the values that the Serrano family holds dear as they celebrate 100 years in business in 2019.

April 1, 2019

Alexa Buechler

Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants celebrates 100 years of family traditions

This coming September, the Serrano family will have been in business for 100 years, opening their first location in Chandler and additional locations in the East Valley.

In celebration of their 100th anniversary, their restaurants will have specials that highlight one of the eight family members in the business per month. These lead up to even more specials in September, which is when the family opened their business a century ago.

The Serrano’s legacy didn’t start with a restaurant; it started with a clothing store called Serrano Brothers’ Popular Store that opened in 1919. Ric Serrano’s grandfather and great uncle moved from Tucson to Chandler in the early 1900s and eventually set up shop in a clothing store in downtown Chandler that eventually evolved into Serrano’s Department Stores. There were locations in Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa, Casa Grande and even one on 32nd Street and Indian School Road.

Ernie and Eva Serrano founded Serrano’s Mexican restaurants in 1979 and today their 8 children own and operate the five East Valley locations.

Then in the 70s, shopping malls and big box stores became more popular. Businesses such as Diamonds, which is now Dillard’s, and Broadway, which is now Macy’s, became all the rage and forced the Serrano family to close most of their stores. “One by one, we started closing up our little clothing stores. Our parents only had one left, and that was in downtown Chandler. Then, my parents had the opportunity to get into the restaurant business; there was a location right behind the clothing store right on the main drag on Arizona Avenue,” said Ric Serrano,  president and CEO of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants.

Serrano’s parents noticed there were several vacant restaurants at the time and saw it as an opportunity to keep the family legacy alive. “It was as much an opportunity as it was survival at the same time,” Serrano said.

Serrano’s mother was an excellent cook, he said, and his grandmothers had recipes for Sonoran-style Mexican food. Serrano also said it helped that the family had already made a name for themselves. “Having a name in the restaurant business is half the battle. Everybody knew us from the clothing business, and we opened up with the same logo, but they called the restaurant La Casa Serrano,” Serrano said. The family opened up the restaurant and closed their final clothing store in 1979.

As young adults, Serrano and his siblings helped their parents get the restaurant off the ground, he said. “After getting the restaurant in downtown Chandler up and running, our parents just worked like you can’t imagine. It’s difficult. On the weekends, the banquet rooms are used for live music, so they would probably leave at 2 a.m. and come back again at 8 a.m. and start all over. They were working very, very hard, difficult hours,” Serrano said.

In 1985, Ric Serrano opened their second location in Tempe. “Then the bigger we got from that point, the more family members came in,” he said. Now, the family has five locations in the East Valley: two in Mesa, one in Tempe, one in Chandler and one in Queen Creek.

Serrano said it is truly a family business not just because multiple generations have worked at the Serrano’s restaurants but because multiple generations of customers have eaten there as well. “Our customers started 40 years ago, and today they have kids who have kids, and they’re bringing their kids, so it’s just a generational business,” Serrano said. People even have their wedding receptions in their banquet room.

Serrano said they feel a part of the community because they’ve lived in Chandler for many generations and most of the family still lives in Chandler. “It’s one thing to have a business; it’s another thing to have a business and be connected with the community.”

On a monthly basis, the business feeds over 300 patrons of St. Vincent de Paul in their Mesa kitchen. The family has been doing this since 2003. Serrano credits his brother Ernie: “He opened the door for us there, and we’ve been connected to St. Vincent de Paul ever since.”

Serrano said their Catholic faith is a big part of who they are as a family. After the restaurant was open for over 30 years, in 2012, they decided to close on Sundays — their third busiest day of the week. “Everything happens on Sundays family-wise and worship-wise. We wanted our people, our employees to enjoy (spending time with) their families and take that day to rest. We employ about 200 people right now, and it means a lot to them to have Sundays off.”

The Serrano family is a piece of history in Chandler, and they have become a staple to the East Valley community with their family values and quality food. Next time you stop in, you can help celebrate their 100th birthday by tasting one of their anniversary specials.