Since people heard about the today’s closing of Day’s Hamburgers everyone, it seems, has a story about the restaurant that’s been a fixture in Las Cruces since 1932.
“It’s been great hearing all the stories,” said Deney-Rae Evans, the fourth-generation owner of Day’s. Her great-grandmother Mary-Ann Day started the burger-and-burrito operation 91 years ago.
There are lots of pieces to Evans’ own story, and why she’s closing the downtown restaurant. Many are financial, some are practical, and one is physical: She’s simply burned out.
I recently heard Max Bower, owner of the Amador restaurants downtown, refer to the pandemic as “the war.” We’ve all gone through the war, but few earned as many battle scars as restaurant owners.
Evans is no exception. We all know the struggles of finding dependable employees since Covid. Online employment apps, such as Indeed, can help, but they can be pricey. Evans said as much as $500 a month which, on her budget, can break a month.
Rents, road construction, parking lot issues, rising interest rates, high and fluctuating food costs. All of these have been hurdles over and above staffing for Evans.
Those are the bad things.
Then there are the good things.
The day I visited Evans and her team, I met Rosie Armendariz, who has worked at Day’s for more than 40 years. She was making patties -- just as Mary-Ann Day did back in the day -- from fresh ground beef. Armendariz worked from a 10-pound package of beef, rounding it into future Great Day burgers.
“How do you know how big to make them?” I asked.
“Well, you do something for 40 years, you get the hang of it,” Armendariz said. “Just like meatballs for spaghetti.”
I looked and, indeed, they all looked exactly the same size. She knocked out that bag in just a few minutes.
Next up the line was Verina Matruino, who took Armendariz’s perfect meatballs, plopped them on the griddle, and mashed them flat with a spatula. Matruino also gave me the secret of the green sauce that adorns a proper Great Day burger. I won’t divulge the recipe because, like many Las Crucens, I’m hoping there’s a back door, and Evans might re-open.
“Right now, I’m really burned out,” Evans said. “But I haven’t ruled anything out as far as the future.”
The most likely scenario, she said, would be re-surfacing in the form of a food truck. With that, she could work the hours she wanted, not have to worry about rent, capitalize on the growing number of events in Las Cruces, and not be tied down to a specific location.
And my Day’s story?
Well, there was the time I ate seven Day’s burgers at one sitting. Yes, it was part of a burger-eating contest in the parking lot. And, yes, the burgers were slightly smaller than the Great Day. And, no, I did not win the contest.
It was part of the Las Cruces Green Chamber of Commerce’s Construction Comadres y Compadres campaign a few years ago, which featured entertaining events at local businesses adversely affected by multiple construction projects.
My friend George Vescovo won the contest. He only ate six, but he did so before the buzzer went off, when I was only on burger No. 5. Everybody congratulated George, but I stayed at the table, because there were still two Day’s burgers in front of me. One by one, everyone left, leaving me alone, finishing off those incomparable Day’s burgers.
I hope I get the chance to have some more again. But maybe I don’t need seven.