In English, the word is “family.” In Spanish, “familia.”
Whichever language you pronounce the word in, it’s an important one for Trinidad and Sandra Loya. As the owners of Craig restaurant Casa Loya, the couple have worked for the last decade to bring their family’s traditions and interests to the local community.
Casa Loya, 351 Ranney St., will celebrate its 10th anniversary in February. The Loyas, who have lived in Craig for more than 30 years, first opened the Mexican eatery on Feb. 28, 2001.
“People were asking at the time about a good place for Mexican food,” Trinidad said. “We’d wanted to open a place about five years before that, and then when we saw this place was for sale, I made a call and we got it.”
Both Trinidad and Sandra had ties to the food industry before opening their own establishment. Trinidad’s mother influenced him and his siblings with her cooking. Sandra, likewise, had experience from working at fast food restaurants like McDonald’s and Taco Bell.
Among the offerings that the restaurant has on its menu are entrees such as tacos and burritos, as well as bottomless baskets of tortilla chips.
“They’re all my recipes,” Sandra said. “The chips and the taco shells, we make them here, and the chile rellenos and tamales are always fresh.”
The building has undergone numerous renovations.
Several years ago, the Loyas expanded the restaurant to include an outdoor patio complete with tables for summer customers. Along with the patio also came an indoor feature in which the family takes pride: the self-serve salsa bar, which offers a wide variety of flavors, some of which are experimental in ingredients.
“We’ve got mango, pineapple, avocado, stuff like that,” Sandra said.
Like the popularity of certain menu items, the list of employees has cycled. Three of the Loyas’ four children have worked at the restaurant in various capacities, whether in the kitchen, waiting tables or managing the office.
Their daughter, Sylvia Perea, of Pueblo, worked as a cook and server.
“One of my favorite memories when I worked at Casa Loya was just being able to work with my mom and her teaching me how to cook some of her recipes that my Grandma Loya taught her,” Perea said. “It's not always easy working with family, but I feel like we always had each other's backs.”
Sons Trini and Pablo Loya also provided their services at Casa Loya.
Trini works full-time at Tri-State Generation & Transmission’s Craig Station, alongside his father, who has been with the power plant for about 20 years.
Trini continues to “do paperwork” for the business, while Pablo currently attends Johnson & Wales University in Denver.
However, Sandra said Pablo has his own plans for getting back in the family business.
“He’s studying to be a chef. I think as time went by, he realized that’s what he should be doing,” she said. “He’s working on a lot of new recipes.”
Sandra said Pablo has also been working on new ways to promote the food of Casa Loya, such as adding to the list of $5 lunch deals offered by the restaurant to increase customers.
Trinidad said business has been slow recently, though not bad.
“It’s mostly the economy,” he said.
The Loyas have discussed selling Casa Loya, partly because of competition in town from Mexican restaurants like Vallarta’s, Los Jilbertos and Fiesta Jalisco.
The other reason the Loyas have considered getting out of the business is to devote more time to their youngest son, 6-year-old Angel.
“It takes a lot of time to run a restaurant and raise a little boy and give him the proper attention,” Sandra said.
However, Trinidad and Sandra are not taking the idea of selling lightly, mainly because they enjoy being a fixture in Craig’s culinary business scene.
“Having your own business and being around all the people you meet and have met over the years, it’s pretty neat,” Sandra said.
The younger Loyas said they have enjoyed their time working at the restaurant and helping their parents build a business.
“It’s a lot of stress working with family sometimes, but you can also depend on each other a lot more,” Trini said.
Perea said she sees Casa Loya as an important milestone for her parents and entire family.
“I'm so proud of their accomplishments,” she said. “A lot of people told them that a Mexican restaurant would never last in Craig, but look at them now, almost 10 years later.
“It goes to show that if you want something in life, and if you work hard at it, you can accomplish anything.”
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