New Mexican Grill benefits from owner's early cooking lessons, ex-wife's encouragement

New Mexican Grill, Ralph Aranda
Ralph Aranda (right) credits his loyal customers for keeping him afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy New Mexican Grill)

Ralph Aranda (right) credits his loyal customers for keeping him afloat during the coronavirus pandemic. (Courtesy New Mexican Grill)

Image description
The breakfast menu includes chorizo burritos ($6.49) with eggs and potatoes. (Courtesy New Mexican Grill)
Image description
The grilled carne asada tacos ($2.99 or $4.99 for two) come on soft corn tortillas. (Courtesy New Mexican Grill).
Ralph Aranda’s and Sydney McKinney’s marriage may not have worked out, but their friendship and business partnership stands strong.

Aranda runs the operations and McKinney does the administrative work for New Mexican Grill, the restaurant Aranda started in 2011 at McKinney’s urging, 13 years after their divorce.

The different roles suit them and keep them from “tripping over each other,” said Aranda, who has nothing but praise for his former wife.

“We had a good divorce, you know? Friendship,” Aranda said. “And we’ve been in business since. She’s a very trustworthy person, hard worker, dedicated and has a big heart. So I’ve probably got one of the best business partners anybody could have.”

Aranda said he caught the restaurant bug growing up with parents who ran Rafaelito’s, a small Mexican food place on South Central Avenue in Phoenix. They closed it in the mid-1970s as they both were working two jobs on top of the restaurant.


But Aranda learned to cook from his mom and a grandmother living in Silver City, New Mexico. Her house always smelled of the Hatch chiles in the area that she was constantly cooking.

“When you went in her house, you had to eat,” he said. “It didn’t work any other way, so you had better go there hungry.”

Aranda has delivered pizzas, worked as an assistant manager at Taco Bell, opened a restaurant in Mesa for four years and worked as the food service manager for a nursing home.

But during the Great Recession in 2008, Aranda lost his job and could not find other work. That is when McKinney urged him to start a restaurant cooking his way—“don’t add to it, don’t take away,” she told him.

That meant cooking everything from scratch and using only Hatch chiles from New Mexico, just like his grandmother.

When he opened the restaurant in January 2011, he made enough money to pay his bills.

Business picked up over the next couple months, and with some publicity, he soon was too stressed to keep up with demand and had to expand his staff. It has gone well since then.

“When I get to work in the morning, I think about my grandma or my mom,” he said. “I always think that they’re still with me. I honestly believe that.”

Customer support

Opening New Mexican Grill lifted Ralph Aranda out of the Great Recession, and it does not look like the coronavirus pandemic will end it, he said.

“The [customers] that hadn’t been around in the last few months or even a year or two back, that we haven’t been seeing them for awhile, all came back and supported us. All of them did. I’m so blessed to have great customers. I don’t even know how I can express what I feel, but it’s been total support.”

New Mexican Grill

3107 S. Lindsay Road, Ste. 101, Gilbert

480-899-0773

www.facebook.com/new-mexican-grill-131115090288041

Hours: Mon.-Fri. 7 a.m.-8 p.m., Sat. 8 a.m.-3 p.m., closed Sun.
By Tom Blodgett
Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent 30 years in journalism in Arizona and is the editor of the Gilbert edition of Community Impact Newspaper. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he now serves as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


MOST RECENT

Here are the coronavirus updates to know today in Gilbert. (Community Impact staff)
Gilbert, Chandler coronavirus data and more news from the Phoenix area

Read the latest news from Gilbert and Chandler here.

Da’Bayou Creole Kitchen set to open July 20

The restaurant is a rebranding of The Brass Tap

Journey Five
Journey Five has opened in SanTan Pavilions

The store offers modest, on-trend, affordable women’s dresses, tops, shoes and bags

Chandler USD answers frequently asked questions about returning to school. (Community Impact staff)
Chandler USD tackles health, safety, online education, more in series of FAQs

Chandler USD answers frequently asked questions about returning to school.

Gilbert has produced a video to mark its centennial July 6 during the pandemic. (Courtesy town of Gilbert)
Gilbert celebrates centennial and more area news

Read the latest Phoenix-area news from Gilbert and Chandler.

USS Arizona
USS Arizona submarine sponsor asks Gilbert to be municipal partner

On the occasion of Gilbert’s centennial, the USS Arizona submarine’s sponsor formally asked the town to be the sub’s municipal sponsor

Here are the coronavirus hospitalization data updates to know across Arizona. (Community Impact staff)
COVID-19: See the data behind the rising number of coronavirus hospitalizations across Arizona

Here is a breakdown of what COVID-19 hospitalizations look like across Arizona.

Cyndi George, Cynshine Yoga Pilates & More
Cynshine Yoga, Pilates & More owner looks to help people through multiple modalities

As the name suggests, George’s Cynshine Yoga, Pilates & More studio in Gilbert Town Square offers several modalities to work with people

High Tide Seafood Bar & Grill
High Tide Seafood Bar & Grill's steam-kettle cooking key to thriving in desert

Co-owner Chris Glass and Chef Eric Emlet found a nice, high-traffic spot and a concept—fresh, steam kettle-cooked seafood—and for six years have made a good go of it

Gilbert centennial
Gilbert set to celebrate centennial with video

The Hay Shipping Capital of the World during World War I, Gilbert is all grown up.

The First Street Foundation's dataset includes a forecast models that anticipate the effects of climate change and sea level rise. (Screenshot via First Street Foundation)
Analysis: FEMA may be undercounting national total flood risk by as much as 70%

The new dataset includes an interactive Flood Factor dashboard that anyone can use to assess the risk of flooding over a 30-year period for any address.