by Robert Chapman
I first met Molly in the Spring of 1974, the week she opened her restaurant. La Casita at that time was housed in a tiny building at 1910 Lamar Avenue that had originally been built years before as the very first Toddle House. For the next six months I ate at her restaurant once a week, and often twice. Throughout those six months I never saw another customer. That is not to say there were no others. I know that there were. It does point out, however, how few people came to dine with her in those days before word-of-mouth turned her into a Midtown favorite. Molly and I over the years became good friends. She often told me the story of her history in the business.
As Molly related it to me, her father was named Jessie Garcia. Molly said that in the ‘30s he opened a small cafe near (she thought) what is now Danny Thomas Boulevard and Beale Street. This may have been the first Mexican restaurant in the Memphis area. Molly herself opened her first restaurant, Chiquita’s Cafe, in West Memphis in the mid-‘50s.
Like many of her customers, I helped her with various needs and projects during the ‘70s. Molly and I eventually became business partners in 1982, relocating La Casita to its present location, and the way that happened is a great story. There are so many stores – how, after closing her original restaurant in West Memphis in the ‘50s, she was enticed by a regular customer, Mr. Berger, to supply the recipes for the fledgling restaurant, and how she then trained her sister Delia, to make the food – for Mr. Berger’s restaurant named “Panchos.” Other stories like how I made her first menus for her in 1975 as a Christmas present (and what she did with them – she kept them put away so they would not be ruined), or the time I rented her an apartment behind the restaurant, and her birthday parties, her wig collection, her colorful relationship with Mr. Edwards (her companion and eventual husband) – so many stories.
Many who knew her remember her as I do, as a sweet, kind lady who worked hard all of her life. She was amazingly generous and hospitable – as many newly arrived Mexican immigrants found out. Molly never really spoke English as well as she would have liked, but she did not have to. Her food spoke for her. She had a special genius for seasoning food in a unique manner. Molly’s food tastes like no other. Her hard work and her kindness resulted in her food and her reputation outliving her. Molly’s food has brought much happiness to many generations of Memphians and their guests. It is her greatest legacy, and her gift of love to us all.
“Don’t look at me…….”!
Before Robert was able to work with Molly in the kitchen and get all of her recipes written down, she had her own way of measuring! When Molly was making refried beans or chile gravy, she would reach down into her purse and bring out bags of seasonings. She’d get a handful out and say to the other cooks, “Don’t look at me…….”!