"Why haven't you written about Ortega's Mini Mart being closed?" asked a Fat City reader. "It was my favorite breakfast spot in the city."
Until today, I hadn't heard the news that Frank and Mary Ortega had closed the combination market and cafe at 2646 Belleview, although the Kansas City Hispanic News published an advertisement last June stating that the Ortegas were retiring and that "the building and restaurant were for sale." Restaurateur Arturo Cabral of El Patron restaurant told Fat City that his mother lives next to the Ortegas: "There is an illness in the family, and they could no longer operate the restaurant." The restaurant no longer has a working phone number.
"The economy definitely hurt the restaurant's business," says Joe Arce, publisher of the Kansas City Hispanic News. "And although family and friends were loyal to the business, there were always issues with the location, the parking and the building. You almost had to be very familiar with the neighborhood to even find it."
Ortega's was particularly beloved by members of Kansas City restaurant community for Saturday morning breakfasts. "I used to go there almost every weekend," says Mary Simpson, regional director of the Capital Grille, who added that she stumbled upon the unassuming white-stucco building one day with novelist (and former restaurateur) Lou Jane Temple and Classic Cup restaurant founder Charlene Welling. "You'd see a lot of restaurant people in there. It was like a hangout."
It was a hangout, but not just for the restaurant crowd. Over the years, I saw musicians, writers and actors guzzling strong black coffee in Ortega's after a raucous Friday or Saturday night. Lots of hipsters, too. In 2005, The Pitch named Ortega's the "Best Mexican Restaurant" in that year's Best of Kansas City issue.
The Ortegas, Arce says, opened their business in the early 1990s as a small neighborhood market. "One day, Frank Ortega started selling homemade burritos, and people started coming in for burritos. So he expanded the menu, and little by little, the Mini Mart became a real restaurant."
"I loved going there for a plate of carnitas and eggs," Simpson says. "I'm very sad."