HOLCOMB — When people first walks into El Rancho Cafe in Holcomb, they immediately knows it’s a family place.

The dead giveaways may be from several family photos hanging up throughout the restaurant, or that owners Nancy and Debbie Mader know your name when you walk in, or it may be that four generations from the family have worked there. 

El Rancho can be best described in one word: family.

“That’s kind of how we think of our customers,” Nancy said. “My grandchildren will be here with me, and somebody will say, ‘Whose baby is that?’ And I’ll say, ‘Well, you used to hold his mother and now you’re watching her children.’ It goes way back.”

“We always say, 'good friends, good food.' They’ve all known us since we were young ladies,” Debbie said.

Debbie and Nancy’s parents, Tom and Eva Maestas, purchased El Rancho Cafe in 1971, and the family has operated the business ever since.

Originally, Tom operated the front while Eva was in the back cooking. Tom died in 1977, and Eva worked at the restaurant until she was 86. Eva died two years later in 2012.

Now, Debbie and Nancy oversee the family restaurant. Debbie works in the kitchen, and Nancy oversees the front. Both grew up helping their parents at the cafe.

“Then, we had three brothers that would help us, too, when they lived here. They had families and their wives helped early on, but they also all passed away, so it’s just me and her,” Nancy said.

The tradition has continued at El Rancho over the years. While the Maders' children were in school, they helped at the cafe, and now their grandkids are helping out. Nancy added that the same customers and families have continued to come in over the years.

When it comes to the food, not much has changed over the years at El Rancho. All the recipes are Eva’s originals. 

“She (Nancy) knows a few, and I know a few. But we both don’t know what the other one knows,” Debbie said of their mother’s recipes.

El Rancho, 305 N. Main St. in Holcomb, offers classic, authentic Mexican food. Tacos, burritos, tostadas and tamales are just a few of the items on the menu. One of the more popular dishes is the enchiladas.

“Enchiladas are probably what we sell the most of. But we have a lot of names on the menu,” Nancy said.

Throughout the menu, there are various plates named after people who have left their mark at El Rancho or in the Maders’ lives.

One appetizer at El Rancho is the Annie Dip, which is a mixed cheese and bean dip. It was named after Debbie Mader’s daughter. The dip, which is one of the most popular items at the cafe, is something that Annie just threw together and took to school for lunch years ago, Debbie said.

“When the kids would come in to eat, they’d say they wanted the dip that Annie eats,” Nancy Mader said.

Another dish is Kalbac Yes, which is an order of enchiladas with two fried eggs and green chili, named after Dr. Richard Kalbac, who delivered the Maders' children.

Dr. Kalbac would recommend patients go to Holcomb to eat at the restaurant, Debbie said.

Another dish on the menu is the Ejector, named by their nephew, Major League Baseball umpire Todd Tichenor. 

“One day he came in and said, ‘You think you can put something on the menu?' We told him sure, and he wanted to call it the Ejector,” Debbie said.

The Ejector is a taco wrapped in another tortilla with Annie Dip in it.

“That was his contribution,” Nancy said.

“I wanted to call it a Todd Taco — much easier to explain than the Ejector,” she said with a laugh.

There are also breakfast items, American food and desserts on the menu.

Three years ago, Debbie was diagnosed with cancer, and in her time of need, friends, family and customers flocked to volunteer at the restaurant to offer help. Debbie, whose health has improved but is still going through radiation treatments, said the support is still there.

Debbie and Nancy Mader wake up early every morning to prep for the daily rush. After the workday is over, they clean up the cafe, sit down and eat supper with whichever of the kids is there. They made doing so a tradition.

El Rancho Cafe

Address: 305 N. Main St., Holcomb

Phone: (620) 277-2238

Hours of operation: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday through Saturday; Lunch - 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.; dinner 5 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.