Cook Amelia Patrykus assembles tacos in the kitchen of La Tilma Mexican Grill in mid-February at Sacred Heart Church in El Paso, Texas. The eatery serves up generous plates of homestyle food at value prices. CNS photo/Nancy Wiechec

Church-run restaurant in El Paso takes parish dining to new level

By  Nancy Wiechec, Catholic News Service
  • April 23, 2016

EL PASO, Texas – Move aside pancake breakfast. La Tilma Mexican Grill has brought parish dining to a new level.

Taking its name from the miraculous cloak of St. Juan Diego, La Tilma is a ministry of Sacred Heart Church in El Paso's Segundo Barrio, one of the city's oldest communities.

"This is the best breakfast deal in town," said manager James Martinez on a break from taking orders one Sunday morning.

He said the restaurant prepares home-style Mexican favourites at prices that can't be beat.

Each Saturday and Sunday a team of cooks assembles plates of eggs, chilaquiles, beans and tortillas. Red chiles are prepared by hand for chilaquiles, a dish of fried corn tortillas and red chile sauce. Steaming soups are ladled into cups and triangles of soft tortillas constantly sizzle at the fry station. Everything is made fresh to order.

La Tilma is a nonprofit business but working there is not a volunteer opportunity. The positions are paid, in line with the mission of the grill and parish's social ministry efforts, Martinez said.

"We call it social entrepreneurship," he told Catholic News Service. "Our focus is to generate employment for people in the area."

The restaurant has eight people in full-time positions and adds temporary workers for large catering jobs. The pay is $9.09 an hour, above the Texas minimum wage of $7.25.

Restaurant and catering training is the aim of La Tilma's business plan.

"We hope that people will receive skills to take to other jobs in the restaurant business," Martinez said.

The community also benefits from the restaurant's low-cost meals. A generous breakfast special — two eggs, chilaquiles, beans and tortillas — is priced under $4 and includes coffee. A plate of four tacos, with beans, rice, salad and tortillas, is $4.95. At $5.95, the grill's combination plate, "platillo mexicano," is the most expensive item on the menu.

"People come because the prices are extremely affordable," Martinez said.

"And if someone is in need, we help them out (by) providing a meal for even less or in some cases for no cost at all."

The restaurant serves about 725 meals each weekend. But Martinez said it makes most of its money catering four to five large events each week.

"We don't do any advertising," he said. "When we cater a party or an event someone will recommend us. That's how most local people find out about La Tilma."

The restaurant is located in the parish hall behind Sacred Heart Church and is open to the public Saturdays and Sundays, 7 a.m.-2 p.m. local time, Friday evenings during Lent and for parish festivals and events. Catering is available year-round.

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