The restaurant usually hires 25 bartenders for its annual Cinco de Mayo party. This year, Aunt Chilada’s will be sending the margaritas home.
Aunt Chilada’s, a long-standing family-owned Mexican restaurant in Phoenix, is known for its giant annual Cinco de Mayo celebrations that draw in thousands of people from across the country.
“It’s the Super Bowl of the year. It’s the World Series,” Michele Woods told The Copper Courier.
She and her three sisters, along with her mom, dad, and other relatives, have worked at the restaurant for decades. The family’s patriarch, Ken Nagel, began managing the restaurant in the 1980s before buying it in 1994.
This year, while the restaurant’s dining room is closed due to the coronavirus pandemic and mass gatherings are not allowed, Aunt Chilada’s has created a new holiday of sorts: “Corona de Mayo.”
The restaurant, open Tuesday from noon to 7 p.m., is offering fun items like a Corona de Mayo t-shirt (complete with images of a surgical mask and toilet paper) and sombrero bottle openers.
Aunt Chilada’s is also offering a special menu for the holiday. The family has had to limit their regular menu while serving takeout during the pandemic. Tuesday’s offerings include wood-fired pizzas, pollo adobo street tacos, “super” flautas, and, of course, Corona beer.
Additionally, Corona de Mayo celebrators can take home a party package deal – two t-shirts and a half-gallon margarita growler (about 15 cocktails) for $60.
Although people can’t hang out and have their meals on the premises, the restaurant staff is working to still make walk-up orders a fun experience.
“We’ll have the bar open with our great bartenders who everybody wants to see. … [Customers] won’t be able to hang out and drink, but they’ll be able to grab a drink, get some swag, have a Corona.” Woods said.
Her sister, Tiffany Allison, added patrons can wait for their pizza and to-go food – “obviously socially spaced.”
Staff are taking precautions like wearing masks, checking employees’ temperatures, setting up hand-washing and sanitizing stations, and keeping people at least six feet apart. Any customers who don’t want to leave their cars can also call the restaurant and receive curbside delivery.
The pandemic hasn’t just caused Aunt Chilada’s to miss out on throwing a great party – it has also majorly impacted the family’s finances. Woods and Allison said they usually make a month’s worth of revenue on Cinco de Mayo alone, and that money helps tide the restaurant over in the summer when people leave the state’s hot temperatures and those who stick around don’t go out as much.
The restaurant has had to cut its normal staff of 125 down to just 11. Woods and Allison said they were “fortunate” to receive a Paycheck Protection Program loan, but they know it will only last so long.
On Monday, Gov. Doug Ducey announced that restaurants should be able to reopen dining rooms by May 11. But even then, Woods and Allison said they know people will still be concerned for their health, and it will take time for things to return to normal.
Regardless of the setbacks, the sisters said nothing could stop them from celebrating a day that is so important to their family and community.
“Even if we would have been dead closed, like dead closed,” Allison said, “Michele and I would have been here in sombreros drinking Coronas on the sidewalk, waving to all of our friends who walk by.”
7330 N. Dreamy Draw Road, Phoenix
Open for takeout on Cinco de Mayo from noon to 7 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
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