When you step inside El Conquistador at 7th Street and Thunderbird Road, all signs appear to show business is doing well.
Owner, server, and jack-of-all-trades Maria Altmaier has owned El Conquistador for 23 years. She started the business with her husband Mark back in 1994.
"I told my husband, 'I'm from Jalisco, I'm from Guadalajara, and I'm going to show them good food,'" said Altmaier.
The restaurant has been a success at three different locations in two decades. It’s won a number of awards from Valley critics for having the “Most Authentic Mexican” and the “Best Mole.” Despite the accolades though, El Conquistador is in danger of closing its doors for good.
"The best part is to meet such nice people and meet some nice friends. I'm happy to have met such good friends. I'm going to be sad when I have to close the doors you know," Altmaier told ABC15.
Last year, Maria’s husband Mark was diagnosed with dementia. He’s been unable to help around the restaurant. It’s put a larger load on Maria. Not to mention, her rent is slated to increase and business has been slowing in recent years. Longtime customers like Jack Babayev are saddened to learn of the eatery’s fate.
"She put her heart and soul into food and this industry. She really cares about her customers. She treats them like family. I think there's a part of her soul in this food," Babayev said.
Altmaier is holding out hope she can start a new venture featuring some of her classic recipes, and is currently looking for a new location. If she does open up again, she admits it will have to be a smaller operation so she can juggle work, her husband’s worsening condition, and her own medical issues.
It won’t be easy for her to say goodbye.
"To see them happy and the joy as they say, 'Oh it was very good,' It makes you feel happy. Like you want to keep going like when your mom says, 'Good job mijo.' There are no customers, we are all family,” Altmaier said.
Longtime customers like Babayev are planning a final Cinco de Mayo special at the restaurant. The hope is a big night can help Altmaier continue serving her “family.”