By Dana Delgado
Elena Soto, the owner of Atzimbas Restaurante Mexicano in Liberty Hill for the last 13 years, has stepped away from her business due to sudden health issues.
Her oldest daughter, 24-year-old Grecia Salazar, has taken over management of the day-to-day operations and is expected to assume ownership of the business. Ms. Salazar said her mother is resting at home and asks that any well-wishes be delivered to the restaurant.
When Ms. Soto, the oldest of six sisters, opened Atzimbas at 14801 W. State Highway 29 in 2001, she had few doubts it would be a success.
The restaurant’s name, Atzimbas, was in itself a bold statement, curious and unpronounceable for many, spoke to the owner’s character and connection to her native homeland of Mexico. Atzimbas is a mythical god-like and fearless Aztec princess who did not shy away, but embraced all challenges.
Over the last 13 years, it has been her inner strength, attention to detail, and the nurturing and development of a dependable crew that has allowed Ms. Soto to establish Atzimbas as one of the top restaurants in the region. Her entrepreneurial spirit was fostered and shaped by her own family including her sisters and mother, all of whom are present or former business owners. While her mother owned different shops in Mexico and has mentored her all along the way, her sisters have guided her and shared their own experiences in owning and managing restaurants in Leander and the surrounding area.
Ms. Soto opened her first restaurant in Leander, at the corner of US Highway 183 and New Hope Road.
“I was 12 years old and attending middle school in Leander,” said Ms. Salazar, oldest daughter of Ms. Soto. “My mom was pregnant at the time and it was hard at the beginning, but she had a lot of experience and knew all about the restaurant business including management and cooking.”
Ms. Salazar said she helped out at the restaurant every day after school, cleaning tables and doing whatever her mother needed.
It was in Leander that Ms. Soto hired Alex Campos, then age 17, as her cook.
“He didn’t know how to cook or anything about the business,” recalls Ms. Salazar. “Mom wanted to help him because he was so motivated and took a chance on him. She taught him how to cook. He has been the cook ever since, preparing the authentic Mexican food we are known for. He’s a great cook.”
After a good two-year run in Leander, the property changed hands and Ms. Soto had to find a new location.
“We started looking until we found the site in Liberty Hill,” said Ms. Salazar. “I think it had been home to other restaurants, but my mom liked it. So, we moved all our equipment. Almost from the beginning, we were busy. Word got out about our food and its authentic flavor. Everybody loved the food.”
But it wasn’t just the food, the constant smile and friendliness of owner Ms. Soto and the excellent service had drawn the appreciation of the patrons. It was a dream come true after years of paying her dues as a waitress in Austin restaurants and growing her own business.
A few weeks ago, she fell ill.
“Mom’s health started to fail,” said her concerned daughter. “She’s tired and weak. They are running tests and she is resting at home where grandma is looking after her.”
Ms. Soto said she is turning the reins over to her 24-year-old daughter.
“My mom told me that she had the restaurant for me and my future so I should take it,” said Ms. Salazar, who had been taking classes to become a dental hygienist. “It’s been hard going to school and now managing the restaurant, but I tell my mom that everything is under control so she won’t worry. I’ve always wanted to go that route and wanted to grow the business. I definitely don’t want to let the business go.”
As she assumes ownership, she says she is uncertain as to her level of involvement in the business and is feeling the weight of responsibility.
“It’s been an eye opener,” she said. “I felt this was a big responsibility. Just a few years ago, I was a rebellious teenager and my mom would tell me that she would not always be here and that life was not all fun. She would tell me that I needed to balance things out. I’ve had to grow up.”
Mother and daughter were inseparable in their early years and remain so today.
“When I was little, I would cry and cry because I wanted to be with my mother,” said Ms. Salazar. “I didn’t want to stay with the babysitter so she would end up taking me with her to work. Even today, I still live with her and she wants me to stay with her even though I want to be more independent.”
With a large extended family, support has always been there. Large family trips to Mexico to visit family friends were annual events until a decade ago when they were taken hostage in the interior of Mexico.
“I was about 13 or 14 when we were taken hostage and robbed at gunpoint,” Ms. Salazar said. “It was scary. The masked robbers held us for about 12 years and robbed us of everything. They took our clothes, our money, our shoes, and our car, and left us in the middle of nowhere in the dark of night. Fortunately, help came. Thank God.”