Mi Nidito and Guillermo’s Double L

Owners Jimmy and Ernie Lopez have sold Mi Nidito, left, to Edgar Gonzalez, who owns Guillermo’s Double L, right, another historic Mexican restaurant on South Fourth Avenue.

For almost 72 years, Mi Nidito has been a Tucson staple.

Year after year, people would flock to South Fourth Avenue and patiently wait in line for a chance to indulge in a classic Mexican meal, reminiscent of the home-cooked meals you would eat at your grandmother’s house.

Everyone from Bill Clinton to Steve Kerr to Linda Ronstadt made themselves at home in the serape-striped booths eating bean tostadas, chile rellenos and enchiladas.

From the very beginning, the Lopez family kept this iconic spot up and running, but the day has finally come and they are ready to leave their little nest.

The Mi Nidito dining room fills with customers during lunchtime on Feb. 7.

Owners Jimmy and Ernie Lopez have sold Mi Nidito, to Edgar Gonzalez, who owns Guillermo’s Double L, another historic Mexican restaurant on South Fourth Avenue.

“I think we're ready for retirement. I mean, the restaurant has been open 72 years,” Jimmy Lopez said. “I turned 70 and Father Time is catching up to me.”

Ernesto and Alicia Lopez originally opened Mi Nidito, which translates to my little nest, in 1952 at 1813 S. Fourth Ave. Ernesto wanted to open a tortilla factory, but Alicia wanted a restaurant instead.

“You know who won that argument,” Jimmy Lopez previously said.

During that time, the kitchen was in the area that is now the lobby. Jimmy Lopez remembers when his grandmother, Alicia, would cook the meals in small two- and three-quart pots.

Over the years, Mi Nidito grew and expanded with Jimmy Lopez’s parents Ernest Lopez Jr. and Yolanda Lopez eventually taking the reigns.

Mi Nidito restaurant as seen in the early 1950s. The eatery has been sold to a new owner.

Mi Nidito became known for its traditional Mexican meals, like the chile rellenos and enchilada-style burritos. There's also the President’s Plate, which is the meal Bill Clinton had when he visited in 1999. His order consisted of a bean tostada, birria taco, chile relleno, chicken enchilada and a beef tamale.

Around 10 years ago, Ernest Lopez Jr. took on a smaller role at the restaurant, allowing his sons Jimmy and Ernie to step up to the plate. Jimmy Lopez took on most of the load since he had been working at the restaurant the longest.

When their father passed away three years ago, Jimmy and Ernie Lopez officially took over the place.

After working at the restaurant for 53 years, Jimmy Lopez felt like it was finally his time to retire.

“My father always told us that if we decided to sell the business, make sure you sell it when it's doing good, not when it’s doing bad,” Jimmy Lopez said. “So we took his advice and that's what we're doing.”

Mi Nidito has been in the Lopez family for three generations, but other family members aren't interested in taking it over, Jimmy Lopez said. The next generation was either too young to take the reigns or not interested in getting into the restaurant industry.

“We didn't want to turn it over to a third party, like a management company, because I'm going to be home thinking about it and I'm not going to have peace of mind,” Jimmy Lopez said.

That left him with two other options: sell the property or sell the restaurant to somebody who would keep it going. If they were to sell the property, that would mean his employees, some who have been there for 40 years, would have to look for new jobs.

The brothers decided to look for somebody to buy it. Luckily, Gonzalez had been interested in Mi Nidito for the last five years, Jimmy Lopez said.

While they did have other offers, Jimmy Lopez said Gonzalez continued to come to the table because he really wanted the place.

'The caretakers'

Guillermo's Double L opened in 1948 across the street from Mi Nidito. The restaurant was originally a drive-in barbecue joint before switching to Mexican food. 

Since Gonzalez was 8 years old, he has loved Mi Nidito, saying he always felt like there was something special about it.

"I never really thought I was going to get the chance to get it," Gonzalez said. "I would joke about it as I got older and ask him (Jimmy) until one day it really happened. It just felt so surreal."

Gonzalez wants to ensure the community that nothing about Mi Nidito will change, keeping the same old charm that it has always had. 

"We don't see ourselves as the owners, we see ourselves as the caretakers," Gonzalez said. "Our job is to make sure we take care of the place. All the locals can still enjoy the same quality. It's more than just the food, it's all the memories, too, so we are going to make sure we take care of that."

Gonzalez will officially be in charge of the restaurant starting Wednesday, March 6, Jimmy Lopez said. Even though Gonzalez owns Mi Nidito now, Guillermo's Double L will remain open. 

“I'm confident that he's going to do his best to take care of it. I mean, he's not going to invest big money and then let it go,” Jimmy Lopez said. “My brother and I are going to be there as consultants for the transition.”

After decades of service, the Lopez family has sold Mi Nidito. 

For the next three months, Jimmy and Ernie will help Gonzalez with the transition. After that, they are stepping back from their family’s restaurant.

While it’s going to take some time to get used to not working around the restaurant, Jimmy Lopez plans on taking retirement “one day at a time.”

For years, the Lopez family has made sure customers feel at home and leave their little nest with full bellies. As they navigate this new phase of life, Jimmy Lopez said he’s going to miss his employees and customers the most.

“I'm going to miss the interaction with the public. All the people that I've met over the years, and it's thousands of people that I've appreciated,” Jimmy Lopez said. “I mean, I have to appreciate all these loyal customers over the years that supported me and I hope they continue to.”

Become a #ThisIsTucson member! Your contribution helps our team bring you stories that keep you connected to the community. Become a member today.

Jamie Donnelly is the food writer for #ThisIsTucson. Contact her at jdonnelly@tucson.com