After 77 years of continuous dining served up by the Zuniga family, Progresso Tamale Parlor, at 230 Third St. in Hollister, will be shuttering its doors for good in December. Margaret Zuniga-Healy and her brother, Gilbert, are the fourth generation of Zunigas to own and operate the family restaurant, serving up hearty Mexican cuisine at the same location for the past 60 years.
“We both want to try to do some other things,” Margaret Zuniga-Healy said of the closing. “We’re both in our 50s and there doesn’t seem to be anybody in our next generation that is interested in taking it over. So we decided at the end of this year will be our last year.”
She said the restaurant will begin closing down just before Christmas and will turn off the lights for the final time the last week of the year. She said the family is not selling the business.
“No one has approached us about buying it and we haven’t pursued it,” Zuniga-Healy said. “We’re just closing down and will probably sell the building.”
According to the official business history, which can be found on the back of every Progresso menu, her great-grandparents, Aurelio and Maria Zuniga, emigrated from Chihuahua, Mexico, in the early 1920s. They worked in the fields around Hollister for a few years. Then, in 1939, they decided to take a chance and opened a small café on San Benito Street, where Bank of America is now located. In the mid-1950s, the business was passed on to their sons, Alfonso and Vicente. The brothers bought and refurbished the Goodfellow Hotel and moved the restaurant there, where it has remained to this day. Wholesale operations began and they sold tamales and enchiladas to supermarkets throughout the Central Coast.
In 1965, Alfonso sold his share of the business (he moved to Santa Nella to open a restaurant), to his brother and his wife, Josefina, who became the primary inspiration in the kitchen. By the mid-1970s their son, Aurelio and his wife, Patsy, took over the daily operation. They ended the wholesale part of the business in order to concentrate on running the restaurant before passing it on to the fourth generation, Gilbert and Margaret.
Zuniga said when she and her brother took over the restaurant, she was working as a materials manager for a medical devices company in Silicon Valley.
“If anybody is looking for somebody to hire, I’ll be available after the first of the year,” she said on Wednesday, not altogether joking. “I’ll have to have a job. I can’t just retire. I have a degree from U.C. Davis in managerial economics and an MBA from Golden Gate.”
But 15 years ago, Zuniga said, her children were young and she wanted to have the flexibility to have more time with them, so she returned to the family business where she had worked as a teenager. She said most of those in the fifth generation of Zunigas are too young to take over the business.
“Also, this building is old,” she said. “It was built in the 1880s and there a lot of issues with it. A lot of the stuff was grandfathered in since it’s been in the same family all this time. At some point, you have to either tear it down or upgrade, and at this point that wasn’t something we wanted to do.”
What she will remember most about the restaurant and working there is that it was always about the family.
“I worked for my grandmother, for my uncle,” Zuniga said. “My cousins' kids are all working here. On any Sunday night, nine out of 10 people working here are family members. Some of the people who aren’t family have been here 10 or more years. We have a dishwasher who has been here over 30 years. There’s something that keeps people here, and it’s not like we offer great benefits or anything. It’s about the flexibility and family."
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