Carmen Rosales said she feels tired just thinking about it.
It was 1963, and she was 15 years old. Her parents -- Rafael and Connie Lopez -- had just opened their little Mexican restaurant on North Broadway.
Carmen's job was to roll the balls of homemade tortilla dough her mother prepared into rounds. Day after day. Ball after ball.
She was so tiny, she had to stand on a Coca-Cola crate to reach the surface where she rolled the dough. Later that day, the tortillas would be filled with beef, turned into burritos and sold for 25 cents apiece.
That was 50 years ago.
This month, that restaurant -- Connie's Mexico Cafe at 2227 N. Broadway -- turns 50, a rare feat for any family-owned business, especially a restaurant.
And they've been an eventful 50 years, Rosales said, filled with the deaths of her parents, the births of her five children and seven grandchildren, a brain aneurysm that nearly killed her, and three separate car-vs.-Connie's crashes that each demolished and temporarily shut the restaurant down.
They've also been filled with thousands and thousands of tacos, enchiladas and beef burritos -- made Connie's way.
Fifty years later, Carmen still runs the restaurant with the help of her children, who say they are ready to take it over when Carmen says the word.
But Carmen isn't ready yet.
She still comes to work every day to greet customers, run the kitchen and deal with vendors, all the while surrounded by her girls, her grandchildren and framed photos of Ralph and Connie, who built a business that has sustained her and her family for years.
"I'm doing this because the restaurant is their legacy," she said. "I want to continue it out of respect for what they were able to do. I know it was difficult back then for a Hispanic couple to start a business like this, but they did it."
Carmen was Connie and Ralph's only daughter -- adopted when she was very young.
The family relocated from Texas to Wichita in 1952, when Carmen was a small girl. Her father was a barber by trade, and the family immediately joined the St. Margaret Mary Catholic Parish.
Connie would cook for church fundraiser dinners back then, and her abilities in the kitchen earned her fans.
"From then on, people would come up and tell Mom and Dad, ?Golly, Connie, golly, Ralph, you need to start a restaurant.' And the seed was planted."
A small, grimy bar named Chata's went up for sale on North Broadway -- in the spot right next to the current Connie's location -- in the early 1960s, and Ralph bought it. He and Connie ran their restaurant out of the tiny space, equipped only with bar stools, until the early 1970s, when the El Patio restaurant next door moved. The Lopezes were able to take over that much bigger space. The restaurant still operates there.
Carmen spent her teenage years with the tortilla dough.
"Boy, did I work hard," she said with a laugh. "I gave up a lot of sock hops and football games and wild parties."
She had no intention of spending her life in the restaurant. Carmen had dreams of attending law school at Washburn. But her parents urged her to stay.
She got married in 1970. Soon after, her first daughter, Monique, was born.
Working in the restaurant gave Carmen the flexibility to have Monique -- and the
Most Popular Stories
- Stolen Cobalt-60 Recovered in Mexico
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Sarmiento to Handle Greeley Latin Ops
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- First-time Jobless Claims Drop Below 300,000
- SpaceX's Satellite Launch Is 'Game-Changer'
- White House Pushes to Extend Unemployment Benefits
- Wind Power and Wildlife Can Coexist
- Latin Music Conference Turns 25
- Calif. Likes Christie, Says Tea Party's a Drag