To the unfamiliar eye, the Park Avenue strip that falls between Echles Street and Goodlett Street is nothing more than pawnshops and cash on the spot businesses. But the unfamiliar eye can be deceived.
Tucked on the corner of Park Avenue and Graham Street is a Mexican restaurant with such authenticity that a person is liable to question what they have consumed at Mexican chains their entire lives.
With three locations, the first Las Delicias Mexican Bar & Grill opened in January of 2003 on Shelby Drive by restaurant founder and owner, Antonio Martinez. The restaurant relocated to the current Mendenhall location a few years later. The Park Avenue location opened in September of 2009 and the newest Las Delicias, housed on Quince Road, opened in July of 2012.
A native of Mexico, Martinez moved to Memphis from Mexico City in 1998 and worked in the IT department of a local business. After refusing the request of his employer to return to Mexico to perform equipment installation, he was fired.
Faced with unemployment, Martinez and his wife decided to give the restaurant business a try.
“When I was a young boy, like a thousand years ago, I used to work in a restaurant,” he said. “For some reason, I don’t know why, you go back to the basics. On top of it, while I was working at this company on Friday nights I was selling tacos in my garage so I kind of started before opening.”
“I close Park, then I go close Quince and my son closes Mendenhall, and right then it’s almost 10:30 p.m. or 11 p.m. and that’s when I go home,” he said.
Martinez’s wife, sons and some of his daughters-in-law and nieces are employed at the restaurants, giving Las Delicias a distinct family business feel.
The family environment was always the vision, Martinez said. Evidenced not only by the biological ties amongst employees, but by the family and young children demographic that is the main customer base.
An employee of three years, Kayla Stanczyk said, customer relationships are one of the things that differentiates Las Delicias from other places.
“It’s small so it’s like a family, and we try to get to know our customers,” she said. “We are not just ‘can I take your order’ we try to talk to them.”
Regardless of who comprises the customer base, trying to locate an unoccupied parking spot is a quick affirmation of its popularity.
Martinez said the pricing and quality ingredients are two of the main attractions for patrons.
“Our pricing is very reasonable, that is value for your money,” he said. “Our food is fresh. We do not precook anything; we cook right when you order and we use just fresh ingredients, that makes a difference. We don’t use all that seasoning powders and stuff. We are just blending the different ingredients and out of that blend, flavor comes without seasonings.”
Shannon Maris, a repeat customer of Las Delicias, said the ingredients are the primary separation between the restaurant and its competitors.
“They are totally fresh,” she said. “They make their own chips. I can really tell a difference that it is more like homemade.”
While most of the dishes are popular, depending on the time of day a customer walks in, Martinez said his recommendations vary.
“If it’s a lunch, I would say a burrito or a quesadilla right away,” he said. “But if it’s at night, I would say enchiladas or all-in-one chicken fajitas.”
The 4002 Park Ave. location is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday.