Editor’s note: This is the last in a series of articles profiling this year’s Boulder County Business Hall of Fame inductees.
When the Boulder Daily Camera rolls out its People’s Choice Awards annually, readers couldn’t be blamed for thinking some sort of fix was in for the No. 1 spot in the “Best Mexican Food” category.
After all, for 19 of the 20 years that the distinction has been awarded, Efrain’s of Boulder has been the recipient. It’s a lock. Efrain Gomez can’t recall which year the award went to someone else, but he knows why the publishers found another restaurant to honor.
“I told them to give it to someone else,” he said in an early August interview. “Some other place should have that chance to help their business.”
Gomez and his extended family members have carved out their success with Mexican cuisine in Boulder County in old-fashioned ways. Hard work, attention to detail and preservation of time-honored recipes have built Gomez’ restaurants in downtown Lafayette and on Canyon Boulevard in Boulder, just a few steps north of McGuckin Hardware.
Those ventures have earned Gomez entry into the Boulder County Business Hall of Fame, where he will be inducted at a Sept. 14 event at the Boulder Jewish Community Center.
Lafayette was first, opening in 1991 after Gomez had served a lengthy apprenticeship with his uncle, known to all as Señor Miguel and who was a pioneer in Boulder’s Mexican food scene. He was the first Mexican American to own a commercial building in Boulder, a fact that Gomez takes great pride in.
After transferring the Lafayette location to his siblings, Gomez turned toward Boulder again. Efrain’s of Boulder opened in 1997, and Gomez has tended to that business on a daily basis ever since. His daily presence is a matter of quality control, he said.
“A lot of people open a restaurant, and then get some success with it, and they walk away,” he said. “They go on vacation, and when they come back, things aren’t so good.”
Another transition is already underway, with Gomez’ nephew, Christian Piñon, well-prepared to succeed his uncle. Just over a year ago, Piñon helped plan and undertake a move that took Efrain’s from its location off 63rd Street in east Boulder to the much more central, prominent and spacious location in the plaza anchored by McGuckin.
“It’s an amazing family tradition that we have going with these two restaurants,” Piñon said. “It’s a great honor and a huge privilege for me to be able to continue that.”
Chile verde — green chile — is the reliable staple that Efrain’s has relied upon to build a loyal clientele in Boulder and Lafayette. The pork green chile served at both locations is mentioned most often by customers who leave glowing accounts of it on review websites.
“That’s what people like the most about us,” Gomez said. “The problem with a lot of other places is that they put flour in their chile verde to thicken it. We don’t do that, and it’s much better.”
Piñon said he plans to carry on his uncle’s practice of community service as he takes over the operations in Boulder. Gomez has established that record with contributions to Nederland Area Seniors, gift cards to honor nurses at Boulder Community Health and, beginning this fall, support for Boulder Valley School District’s new Transition Center Services, providing employment training for local students and underrepresented groups in the community.