When Mike Gibson left California for Utah in the ’70s, he thought he’d only stay a few years. He’d work at his new restaurant job, ski on his days off and then, when he was tired of the Beehive state, he would return to the West Coast.
California is still waiting.
Three dudes celebrate 30
Tres Hombres Mexican Cantina is celebrating its 30th anniversary by offering customers entrée items at 1984 prices, including the No. 1 combo for $3.95 and fajitas for $6.95. To get the special menu, customers need to “TresYourFace” on the cantina’s Facebook page and show the photo to the waitress when seated.
When » Through Sunday, Sept. 7
Where » Tres Hombres Mexican Cantina, 3298 Highland Drive, Salt Lake City, 801-466-0054
Details » facebook.com/treshombrescantina
Today, Gibson and co-owner Don Bostrom are celebrating the 30th anniversary of their Salt Lake County restaurant, Tres Hombres Mexican Grill and Cantina. The Tex-Mex restaurant on the corner of 3300 South and Highland Drive serves all the old-school fare — tacos, burritos and chimichangas — in a colorful, tropical setting. But it also boasts experienced staff and a bar with more than two dozen tequilas.
"I never thought I’d last this long in Utah, let alone work at one restaurant," Gibson told The Tribune during a recent interview. "I can count on one hand the restaurants that are still open" after 30 years.
Gibson responded to a few more questions — edited for space and clarity — about how Tres Hombres got started and why it’s remained a favorite.
Who are the Tres Hombres?
Originally there were three of us, but since 1989 when the third partner retired, it’s just been me and Don.
How did you become business partners?
When I moved here from California in 1977, I lived in a duplex up Emigration Canyon. Don lived in the other side next to me. He ran another business and I ran Sophie Garcia’s in the Hilton Hotel downtown. Later, I ran the Townhouse, the private club in the Salt Lake Athletic Club at the mouth of the canyon. In 1984, we decided to go big and open a Mexican restaurant.
Didn’t the restaurant start at another location?
Yes. We started in an old lumber building that was south and west of the current building. In 1998, Salt Lake City condemned the property so it could widen the intersection. We were closed for nine months before we moved into the current building, which was the old CarpeTowne. [The restaurant seats 175 people, and there’s sometimes a wait to be seated on Friday and Saturday nights.]
Wasn’t the CarpeTowne sign — featuring Phil, Dan and Andy holding carpet rolls — a natural fit for the restaurant?
The sign (which was updated so the three dudes wore sombreros) did make it the perfect location.
Talk about those regular customers who have helped keep you in business.
We’ve got people who have been here a thousand times, they come twice a week religiously. I know so many people by name and they know me. My son has basically grown up here, and Don’s daughters have both worked here. They have all bused tables, been servers and run the catering.
Is there anything new at the restaurant?
We recently put out a new menu. We got rid of a few things that weren’t selling and added some new things like sweet pork tacos, burritos and chimichangas, Oaxacan-style enchiladas and a carne asada salad. We’ve added a new patio that seats 24 people. But we also had to adjust our prices for the first time in five years. (See information box for anniversary specials at 1984 prices.)
Does Tres Hombres have a signature dish that you could never take off the menu?
The enchiladas zacatecas, a shrimp and crab enchilada, made with premium Mexican white gulf shrimp. It’s our most expensive entrée ($17), but one of our top sellers. So is the No. 1 combination: a cheese enchilada and a beef taco ($8.50, lunch; $10.75, dinner).
Some restaurants don’t make it a year. What’s the secret to making it 30?
Hard work, and we are both here every day. Don and I also take care of our employees. The longest-tenured employee started in 1984. It’s our main chef who does everything from the beans to the chile verde. Because of that, everything has remained consistent. Our head bartender, Martin Ruiz, has been here 27 years, another assistant manager has been here more than 20 years. We have waiters who have been here 26 or 27 years. They are family and we treat them like family.
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