Arlene Padilla lives for her faith, her family, her community and cooking ... always cooking. Recently, we chatted with the self-made chef and restaurateur about the family restaurant’s origins, success despite a remnant of naysayers, the potentiality of a second location and what you should order on your next visit.
You’ve proven that you have something special with Arlene’s Beans, something loved and sustainable. How do you explain your success?
First off I have to give thanks to God. No question, without his guidance, wisdom, protection and direction, Arlene’s Beans would not be here. Second, I have a tremendous amount of passion for cooking and serving people. Cooking with love is a must. When we moved to Colorado from New Mexico in 1999, I knew there was a need for my New Mexico cuisine.
I also felt there was a need for budget-friendly, family-style meals. I was born and raised in Albuquerque by two loving and hardworking immigrant parents who showed me and my siblings how to live as hard workers with integrity, love and respect for others. Growing up with tons of family and friends you could bet there would be a casserole of cheesy, green chile, chicken enchiladas, which happen to be my absolute favorite. I have converted many of my mother’s and grandmother’s Mexican recipes into my own, with a New Mexican flair. But eating fresh, homemade, natural, organic, vegan, gluten-free and mostly locally sourced ingredients does not have to break a family’s budget.
Most important to our success, we try to make people feel like they’re eating at our home. We are a casual eatery with no servers and no fancy plates, just good food. We serve our beautiful and delicious food on eco-friendly paper plates and everyone eats with sanitized plastic cutlery. This saves on labor, water and chemicals.
Lastly, we try to give back to our local community as much as possible. This is very important to our family. We are here because of our community’s support.
Share with us the background story of Arlene’s Beans.
When our oldest daughter graduated from Lewis-Palmer High School, we decided to host a party. We invited 170 guests hoping to get at least half. 160 guests RSVP’d. Our street had never seen that many cars parked in the 10 years we had lived there. With the party leftovers, my daughters and I prepared burritos and salsa for an annual community garage sale; we rolled up 60 bean-and-cheese burritos and filled mason jars with my salsa. Knowing many of my neighbors, I felt comfortable making the garage sale a fun party. We all enjoyed margaritas on our front yard that hot, beautiful summer weekend. The burritos sold out at $1 each in less than an hour, and I was hooked. It was like wildfire after that.
Shortly after that, we signed a lease at the old Palmer Lake gas station. The Palmer Lake community embraced us from Day One. We cooked our beans off, literally for 13 months. We had large catering parties of 300 people at times and knew we needed more cooking space. Our current location, in downtown Monument, became available and the rest is history.
What have been the biggest challenges that stood in your way?
The biggest challenges have been the verbal attacks from less than 1% of people that we have personally encountered. Although we’ve had only a handful of face-to-face irrational, unfriendly and unfortunate human beings in three years, it has left us in disbelief and saddened for the wasted, negative time. We have learned to deal with those tough situations, but they linger in our minds from time to time. We have also dealt with cyberbullying. Social platforms are unhappy people’s oases. Dealing with fake or negative reviews is sometimes hard to not take personally, but I have learned from many successful business owners and chefs. I have taken their advice. For every 100 people you serve and make happy, one person will not find his place of happiness.
Looking ahead, any plans to expand?
We have entertained the idea of opening second location in the Springs or Florida and maybe a food truck. Right now we are very content and have our hands full with our current location.
What do you suggest a guest order on his or her first visit?
The first thing I suggest to my customers are my burritos smothered in my Christmas chile sauce. This allows my customers to have both red and green chile. Red chile is hot. It’s not a wimpy hot, this is New Mexico hot chile. Green chile is mild and if you’re not a fan of either, try my queso blanco. If they’re not into gluten, my chicken enchilada plates with Christmas chile are a must as well!