Chope’s Town Café and Bar

Owned by the Benavides family since 1915, Chope’s Town café and bar has served as a location for social and political gatherings. Today, it continues to serve the local community with traditional New Mexican cuisine. Longina Benavides began the restaurant in 1915, selling homemade enchiladas with an outside lantern that she turned on to signal that the enchiladas were ready. Longina would make the enchiladas from scratch using only fresh local ingredients, and in 1934 the café began selling alcohol after obtaining one of the first liquor licenses in the state of New Mexico. Longina’s son Jose “Chope” Benavides and daughter-in-law Guadalupe inherited the family business in 1940, and soon after purchased a neighboring welding shop and turned it into the bar, to separate the drinking establishment from the café, where his young daughters helped prepare food. During World War II, a diplomatic agreement between Mexico and the United States initiated the Bracero Program, which permitted Mexican nationals to live and work in the United States because of the shortage of American agricultural workers during the war. The program became critical to the success of Chope’s Town café and bar. The family business relied on the Bracero Program for local farm produce used to prepare meals.  The braceros would often eat at Chope’s, which provided a special lunch plate that included enchiladas or meat, rice, beans, and tortillas. If the braceros could not afford to pay in cash, they would exchange the fresh produce they had picked from the fields that day for a meal. The café and bar became a social center for the community and its dining rooms provided gathering places for social and political discussions among the braceros, farmers, and local politicians. Chope was known to help campaign, and offer advice to politicians like former governors Edwin Mechem, Jerry Apodaca, and Bruce King. Chope also held weekly coffee club gatherings at the café in which local braceros, and farmers discussed their crops, production, and other events that influenced agriculture and businesses in the surrounding community. Illiterate and non-English speaking people from the community would also come to the café and ask Chope to help translate and interpret documents. The café and bar initially served the rural community of La Mesa and surrounding farms. The reputation of the restaurant grew throughout the state and in the 1970s the family printed shirts and bumper stickers to advertise the Chope’s name. The café and bar became a place to eat and drink for the larger community of Las Cruces, including New Mexico State University faculty and students, who traveled 16 miles south for Chope’s New Mexican cuisine. The café and bar still thrive today and in 2015 it was nominated for the National Register of Historic places. Citation: Julie M. Hughes, “Chope’s Family is Connected to New Mexico State University.” Panorama 1995 Yanez, Cecilia and Amelia Rivas. Personal Interview with Norma Hartell, 27 February 2014. Richard B. Craig, The Bracero Program: Interest Groups and Foreign Policy. (Austin, TX: University of Texas Press, 1971).

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