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Helodoro Ponce makes tamales.

La Perla Mexican Deli ending 63-year run

on December 26, 2012

The decision to close La Perla Mexican Deli wasn’t made because of rising taxes, slim profits, or a change in the community. These are all things the family business has seen and overcome in the 63 years it’s been operating in the Iron Triangle.

The building is owned by the family, the revenue is enough for them to pay their own bills, and through the riots of the ‘60s, the restaurant stayed put.

Though time has made the family restaurant a staple in the community and built a sense of trust among their neighbors, it has also made it difficult to keep a good thing going.

“We’re all getting old,” said Helodoro Ponce, “Junior,” the head cook and co-owner of the restaurant. Ponce is suffering from kidney problems and has already lost 20 pounds in the last six months.

The restaurant is a family-run operation. Ponce’s sister Dolores Bonds co-owns the restaurant with him, and five other family members work in shifts. Their mother and father, who have both passed away, started the restaurant in 1969. Both from Mexico, their father got the name La Perla from a restaurant in Acapulco, where visitors can watch cliff divers make daring jumps into the water.

“I’ve spent all my life here,” Ponce said of the restaurant. Above it sits a four-bedroom house, where their siblings and parents used to live.

Although Ponce and Bonds are ready for retirement, many of their customers can’t fathom saying goodbye.

“It’s heartbreaking,” said Billi Murray, who’s a second-generation customer.  Her mother started eating at the restaurant before she was even born. “It’s the neighborhood. I know all her children,” Murray said of Bonds.

With nearly 3,000 friends on Facebook the restaurant has been successful in making a loyal base of customers.

Customers have asked Bonds if they can train the new owners to keep the restaurant going.  Bonds said Ponce is willing to do that if they can find a buyer. “It’s not hard,” Bonds said. “It’s just a lot of work.”

The restaurant was put up on the market six months ago. “We’ve had a few bites,” Bonds said.  But no one has shown a serious interest.

On a recent afternoon, it seemed that every person who walked through the door was a friend or acquaintance of Bonds or her son. “How’s your wifey?” was a repeated question from Bonds while she made the customers their food.

Although Bonds and Ponce aren’t sure of when their last day will be, one thing Bonds said she can tell customers now is they’re open past the end of the year. “So,” as their last Facebook post reads, “keep comin’ in.”

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