Ef’s closing its doors Dec. 23

Photo courtesy of Jamie Dominguez Left to right, Efrem and Nancy Ortiz and the Dominguez family: Nakkia, Cristalray, Jamie, Dekaj, Taneka and Ja’Nya.

‘It’s time to make that shift into the community’

ALAMOSA — Ef’s restaurant is closing its doors on Dec. 23. Owners Jamie and Cristalray Dominguez say they’ll continue to cater, and the food truck will be in the community more, but the restaurant where people have gathered to feast on green chili, huevos rancheros, burritos and skillet breakfasts for almost 15 years will soon be a thing of the past.

It’s a big decision, bringing to a close a generational history of family restaurant ownership that began with Efrem Ortiz, Jamie’s stepfather, when he opened the Lamplighter Restaurant in 1995, which, after moving to a new location, became Ef’s Hideaway restaurant. The tradition continued when, after Efrem closed Ef’s Hideaway in 2009, Jamie and Cristalray re-opened six months later under the name Ef’s.   

But it’s time this decision was made, as becomes obvious in a conversation with Jamie and Cristalray, Efrem and Nancy (Jamie’s mother) Ortiz and the Dominguez’s second youngest daughter, Ja’Nya.

“Running a restaurant is hard on a person’s body,” says Ortiz, holding out wrists stiff with carpel tunnel syndrome after years of cooking. “It’s a business you have to be married to if you’re going to be successful. I know about that. But when they opened Ef’s, Jamie and Cristalray took it way beyond what we did. They leap frogged into something new.”

When Jamie and Cristalray took over Ef’s, they had already been in the business for 14 years. They knew what was involved. Events out of their control — like 9/11, the recession in 2008, supply chain issues, and inflation — will hit rural businesses hard, especially restaurants. Ef’s was still successful in difficult times, only raising their prices once over the next 15 years even as costs continued to climb.

But when the pandemic hit, the Dominguez family re-examined their lives. 

“I saw the restaurant business as an opportunity to learn, but Efrem said it best. You have to be married to it. Well, Cristalray and I are already married,” Jamie says, drawing a laugh from the family.

“We’re not throwing in the towel. It’s our choice to do this. We assessed what we’re doing, how we’re living and spend our time. We want to take a chance and explore the rest of our lives. We know it’s a change. We’re looking at four generations who’ve been involved in this restaurant.”

“But with our construction business, the restaurant and the community work we’re doing, we’re burning the candle at both ends, and there’s not much candle left,” Cristalray says. “So we asked, how do we want to live the rest of our lives? Slaving away?”

“We want to lead the horse instead of just keeping up with it,” Jamie says, drawing another laugh.

“We didn’t really plan on this happening right now,” Cristalray continues, “but it’s already set in motion, and we’re getting a lot of support from the community who think it’s the right thing for us to do.”

And Ef’s is not going away entirely.

“I love cooking, so I’ll still be doing that and we’ll be taking the food truck out more than in the last few years,” Cristalray says. “But instead of being torn between that,  running the family business and my employees being able to make money, we’ll be doing things together, as a family.”

The Dominguezes have also created a new path with a strong community presence through the work they do at Shooting Stars Cultural and Leadership Center and elsewhere. They connect that accomplishment to Ef’s, as well.

“Ef’s has left a footprint on the community. It’s the foundation of everything that we are as a family and part of this community. People who really know us know what Ef’s has done in the past,” Jamie says.

For years, Cristalray has made food for funerals, often missing the funeral herself as she prepared — for free — food for the families and friends. The gesture was so significant that, when an elderly customer passed away, the Dominguezes were mentioned in her eulogy.

When the COVID-19 pandemic shut down all the restaurants, they met with the school district to provide meals for the students, even in the summer. The district also wanted to provide breakfast, so Ef’s provided breakfast while continuing to distribute food boxes.

“The cops used to escort us when we took our floats to the South Side and delivered gifts to the Alamosa Housing Complex and other places. One year, a cop named Cooper asked if he could take some gifts up to this place where he’d just arrested the dad on a warrant. At first, the family didn’t open the door but when they saw me behind him, they opened up and Cooper gave the kids a bike and other toys. For Cooper, it was really what he needed. And for the family, they got to see cops in a new way.”

After that, the Alamosa Police Department (APD) started giving toys they had bought to Dominguez to distribute. APD’s car club even started touring with Five Star Riders.

“That’s when Ef’s really shifted into a role that was more than just a food industry. We already knew the community because of the restaurant. We had a connection. And, because of Ef’s, we also had resources.”

Change can be difficult, even when it’s welcomed, as is true with 21-year-old Ja’Nya, the second youngest of Jamie and Cristalray’s four daughters.

“I started at Ef’s in middle school,” she says. “Now, I’m the only one who can do it all.” She tears up. “I hate work but it’s always been there. I never thought about it going away. (My parents) are so much happier being in the community. This needs to happen.”

“The restaurant has taught us how to see good and bad in the world and to learn from both,” says Jamie. “I’m grateful to Efrem and Nancy for making Ef’s possible. I’m grateful to everyone for many years of support. We’re looking forward to what’s ahead.”