OGDEN — Hyla Olsen heard the news — El Matador, the iconic downtown Ogden Mexican restaurant, would be closing — and went on a mission.
“We had to be here the last day,” she said.
So there she was Thursday, seated with husband Farrell Olsen and the couple’s daughter Haylee Rogers. They were enjoying their last meal at the eatery. “There is absolutely nothing that can compare to this,” said Farrell Olsen, a plateful of food in front of him.
Word started spreading via social media on Wednesday that El Matador, launched in the 1960s, would be closing and the line started forming Thursday morning outside the locale among those wanting one last fix.
“I got here at 10:30 and I was the second one in line,” said Jan Lyons, who ate lunch with her friend Pam Byington.
A message posted on the El Matador website on Thursday — its last day in business —  confirmed the news. “El Matador Restaurante and Cantina is permanently closed. For over 60 years, it has been our pleasure to bring Ogden the finest quality Mexican food. We thank you for your support throughout this time and wish all our customers the very best,” it reads.
But few other details were forthcoming and restaurant operators didn’t immediately respond to a Standard-Examiner query seeking more information. Resha Holder, a hostess who was doling out El Matador’s famous salsa in quart containers to go, said that she first heard the news on social media on Wednesday. Her manager confirmed the plans.
“They didn’t really give us a reason. They said we will be closing after today,” she said.
Unconfirmed scuttlebutt among some of the many people who converged on the restaurant Thursday was that a deep-pocketed investor would be buying out the land where El Matador sits for redevelopment.
“It’s just like everything else in Ogden. Everything’s being torn down,” with apartments and townhomes filling the vacant spaces, Lyons said.
Whatever the reason, the popular restaurant wasn’t hurting for business. “Business was booming. It’s not a lack of business. It’s not a lack of customers,” Lyons said.
A separate and unaffiliated restaurant of the same name in Bountiful remains open.
Chef Tony Hasratian, an Armenian immigrant, opened El Matador in 1963, according to the restaurant’s website. He had been operating an Armenian restaurant when a customer suggested he give Mexican food a try given the lack of Mexican restaurants in Ogden at the time.
His Tex-Mex menu quickly caught on, according to a 2015 Standard-Examiner article on Hasratian and the restaurant. “Millions of enchiladas, tacos and burritos later, Chef Tony has built a sought-after dining experience that keeps people standing in line just to get in day after day and night after night,” reads the article.
Given such popularity, there were a lot of long faces on Thursday. The line of people waiting for food snaked out the front entrance of El Matador into the parking area.
“I think it’s sad,” said Lyons, a fan since she was a child. “It’s a piece of our childhood, our adolescence, our growing up.”
“We don’t know where we’re going to go,” added Byington, her friend.
Shara Hatori and her husband, Austin Hatori, were in the line Thursday waiting to get in. They had their first date at El Matador.
“They’ve got the best food and atmosphere. It’s just the whole experience, really,” Shara Hatori said. “It really makes me sad. It’s one more gem that’s being taken away.”
The salsa, among other things, was a big draw. Tymbre Flamm was there with her husband, Michael Flamm, buying 15-quart containers of the stuff to go. They’ll eat some now, freeze the rest for later.
“I’m so sad, honestly,” she said, referencing the many family gatherings at the restaurant over the years. “It brought us all together. We all love it.”
Janika Barfuss, there with her mother, JoLynn Souter, said losing the food is sad. More significantly, she feels for the El Matador employees who will now have to find work.
At the nearby table where the Olsens and Rogers were dining, Rogers noted that the family tradition of bringing her father to El Matador to mark his birthday will fall by the wayside. “I’m sad we won’t be able to take more pictures with my dad on his birthday,” she said.
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