Steve Bustamante once ran a painting business, but the restaurant business was in his blood. Years ago, his grandparents owned and operated the Mexican restaurant La Paloma near downtown, where both his mother and uncle once worked.
Wanting a business more recession-proof than painting, Bustamante spent several nights sitting in his car in the Safeway parking lot on North Academy Boulevard, staring at a former coffee shop, trying to envision it as a packed restaurant.
In August, the former coffee shop at 5046 N. Academy Blvd. became Sancho's Mexican Grub, which Bustamante describes as a "Mexican Arnold's" - a reference to the "Happy Days" diner of '70s TV fame. It's a place where families, friends, car clubs and others can gather to enjoy old-world family recipes as well as some non-traditional surprises.
The story behind the name hints at Bustamante's sense of fun. He was at a gathering of friends and family when they started throwing out prospective restaurant names. As the laughter and fun grew, so did the suggested names, until Bustamante's friend, Ray Walton, threw out Sancho's. The name stuck, if for no other reason, its comedic implications.
"In the Spanish community, Sancho means the other man in a woman's life, like a sugar daddy," Bustamante said, laughing. "So when a Spanish woman gets mad, she will say "Keep it up, and I am going to find me a Sancho.'"
The name, and his food, is indicative of how Bustamante works to keep his restaurant's atmosphere authentic but light-hearted. He serves pink tacos, puffy tacos, hot dogs smothered in a gravy-styled green chili, and a Chicano Cheese Steak, "named after the Chicano in the kitchen who cooked it," Bustamante said.
Everything is $5, and includes a drink.
"We are not traditional," he said, "but we cook with passion, and we want people to know its grandma's cooking."
For the Bustamantes, the restaurant is a way to connect with the community, each other and their past. Bustamante's grandfather, Trinidad Malacara came to the U.S. from Leon, Mexico, in the 1930s. Trinidad and his wife, Guadalupe Malacara, lived in a railroad box car in Cripple Creek while Trinidad worked the gold mines, said Margaret Bustamante, Trinidad's daughter and Steve's mother.
A decade later, Trinidad and Guadalupe, moved to the Conejos neighborhood of Colorado Springs, an area that is now America the Beautiful Park. In the mid-1960s, Trinidad opened La Paloma restaurant under the Interstate 25 overpass at West Colorado Avenue and North Spruce Street. Margaret worked at the restaurant, sometimes as a waitress, from age 14 to 17.
Margaret said both her mother, father and brother Albert cooked native Mexican dishes for customers. Her mother never used measuring cups, Margaret said. Instead she pinched and dashed her way to recipes that brought La Paloma local fame.
But what Margaret Bustamante remembers most about La Paloma is her mother's green chili and enchiladas. Now, she works at Sancho's from 7 to 10 a.m. several days a week, helping to pass on her parents' recipes and keep their Mexican heritage alive through her son's business.
"It is the legacy they left behind," she said, "and hopefully we can take it down to my grandchildren and great grandchildren."
Steve Bustamante is well known throughout the Chicano community as "Stevie B." But his popularity is tied more to his humanitarianism than his business acumen. He has help support numerous local businesses and held several fund-raisers over the past decade for friends, colleagues and those he's never met.
"He does a lot of benefits for those who have lost loved ones," his mother said.
Still, his business acumen is reflected in the restaurant. Since opening in August, Sancho's has captured a loyal group of Mexican food lovers and increased its catering business. On Thursday, the eatery won a catering job to feed 1,800 Colorado Springs Utilities workers and their families.
Margaret Bustamante is convinced her parents are watching over their grandson and Sancho's
"They would smile on that little Sancho's place," she said. "They would be proud of Steve for what he's done."
Contact Ned Hunter: 636-0275.