Serving for three decades: Lujano to retire from Acapulco

Salvador Lujano, right, an owner of Acapulco Mexican Restaurant in Newton, works in the kitchen of the restaurant while his daughter, manager Yesenia Espada, looks on. Lujano will retire from the restaurant on Christmas Day. Wendy Nugent/HC Now

By Wendy Nugent, HC Now

NEWTON—What Salvador Lujano made the first day he opened his restaurant wasn’t much, but it still made him happy.

“We made $25 that first day,” he said, sitting in a booth in his restaurant of 31 years, Acapulco Mexican Restaurant. “I was excited.”

Lujano, who works 14-15 hour days, is set to retire on his birthday, Dec. 25, this year. He’ll be 65. He’ll slow down a bit, but he plans to still work there.

He opened the restaurant Dec. 15, 1989, at 709 N. Main St., which formerly was La Tapatia, owned by his cousin, Hope Jaso. His wife, Juanita, also is an owner.

“I bought it from her and stayed 10 years over there,” Lujano said.

Later, the business moved to its current location, which used to be the Elks Club. Lujano said a man from the club asked him to buy the building because Acapulco had a lot of business.

“So, I move over here,” he said.

He and his wife have five kids, the oldest of whom is Sal Lujano, a local banker and co-owner of Del Puente Café in Newton. Sal used to work at his parents’ restaurant, along with his siblings. Family’s been a big part of the people who keep the place running.

“Right now, my family and I, we run the business,” Lujano said.

His daughter, Yesenia Espada, is the manager. She takes care of social media and point-of-sale matters, as well as anything else.

Before he opened his own restaurant, Lujano came to the United States from Mexico in 1970, attending Wichita North High School as an exchange student. He worked at Felipe’s at 3434 W. Central in Wichita, which belonged to his uncle, Felipe Lujano, on his dad’s side.

He attended school in the morning and worked for his uncle at night. He also visited his parents in Mexico after a few years in the states. After a year, he returned to Kansas and met his wife at Chico’s in Wichita, which her dad owned and where she worked.

Lujano said he didn’t speak English when he came from Mexico and spoke a little after three years here. He and Juanita communicated with gestures, Lujano said. He demonstrated by forming a heart on his chest, pounding on his chest and pointing at a person. That’s how he said he loved her.

They used to walk to work together, since the restaurants were close to each other.

They married, had five children and then his cousin called wanting to sell her business. Lujano said he became an American citizen and then brought his parents and siblings to Newton to help.

“Since then, thank you to God,” Lujano said. “Thank you to people who believed in me.”

He said his father helped him in the kitchen and his mother cleared tables and rolled silverware.

“In Mexico, that’s what you do, you help with whatever,” Lujano said, adding he learned to cook at Felipe’s and now Lujano’s bigger restaurant can seat up to 200 people, instead of 40, like at the Main Street location.

“Thanks to the Lord, we’re doing better now,” Lujano said.

His plans for after retirement are simple.

“I’m not going nowhere,” he said, adding he’ll still own the restaurant and work there making food, but not as much. “I don’t want to sit down and do nothing.”

He credits success to God and his family.

“We’re doing great, thanks to my mom and dad and family,” he said. “They’re helping me out. My family, they help me here all day.”

All the years Acapulco has been open, they’ve never been open on Sundays.

“Not open Sunday for my Lord, for my family, for church,” Lujano said.

As he’s loyal to the Lord, so is the community to him.

“People from Newton and surrounding areas, they’ve been real good to me, that loyalty, you know,” he said.

“We’re able to do what we love,” his daughter added.

During the pandemic, the community surrounded the restaurant with support. Espada said people called to make sure they had what they needed to stay open and that they added curbside and delivery options. People bought gift cards to use later.

“I almost broke down,” she said. “They were calling to see what we needed to stay open. It was heart-warming. The community has done a lot. We’re grateful to them.”

Although Lujano and his wife stayed in America, they promised each other they’d speak two languages and all their children know two languages.

Acapulco serves people from all walks of life, from doctors and attorneys to police officers, Lujano said. They served Mexican-style and American-style food.

They’ve also served one governor of Kansas, who sat in the back with his group, eating in peace where people wouldn’t bother them. Lujano couldn’t recall the name of the governor and said he has a photo.

“I don’t have nothing to regret,” Lujano said. “The people of the community have been good to me.”

Customers say to Lujano they heard he’s retiring and that he takes trips to Mexico from time to time.

They say, “You cannot go, Salvador. Take me with you,” Lujano said about the customers.

“Where am I going to go?” he said he tells them. “You want to go to the kitchen with me?”

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