Clio Logo

English/Spanish. Connie’s Mexico Café is Wichita’s oldest family-run Mexican restaurant. In 1963, Concepción and Rafael López opened Connie’s Cafe. They were both born in Mexico, Rafael in the state of Nuevo León and Concepción in Jalisco. They grew up during a tumultuous period of in Mexican Mexican history. North of the border, the U.S. economy was booming and labor was in demand. Some U.S. industries, particularly railroads needed employees and actively recruited Mexican immigrants. Well over half settled in the state’s urban areas, including Wichita, where they worked for either the railroads or the meat packing industry.

Rafael and Concepción Lopez

Rafael and Concepción Lopez

Connies Cafe sign

Connies Cafe sign

Figure 1: Rafael and Concepión Lopez

Smile, Tie, Gesture, Dress

Figure 2: Connie’s Cheese Enchilada

Food, Ingredient, Recipe, Cuisine

Figure 3: Tortilla Warmer

Rectangle, Textile, Sleeve, Plant

Figure 4: Pins worn by servers

Body jewelry, Font, Jewellery, Metal

Figure 5: Cudahy Meat Packing Plant

Urban design, Landscape, City, Monochrome

Nearly sixty years earlier, Mexico had gone through two economic depressions, and the Mexican Revolution began, which caused Mexican immigrants to immigrate to America. Between 1900 to 1930 "marked the largest influx of Mexican immigrants to the state"[1]. During that time, Rafael and Concepción’s families had settled in Texas.

Concepción and Rafael López were an exception to this rule, coming to Kansas for different reasons. They met and married in Texas, where their only child was born [2]. Rafael enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1943 and served during World War II. After the war, the López’s visited Wichita for the first time and fell in love with the city. Concepción found work as a domestic and enjoyed cooking at fundraisers. Afterward, the seed to open a restaurant was planted in Rafael’s head; learning of a restaurant for sale in the early 1960s, he bought it for Concepción. The building was located on the city’s north side in an industrial area close to the meat packing facilities replete with hungry laborers. In 1963, the López’s opened a restaurant named it Connie’s to attract an American clientele. The food, though, was always Mexican. 

The Café today is one of the oldest family-run businesses in Wichita. However, it was a miracle that they were able to open a Mexican café in Wichita, Kansas. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Chicano movement was taking place. Mexican Americans were taking a stand and advocating for their rights [3]. They were tired of the mistreatment and discrimination they faced regularly. Mexican immigrants who had settled in Wichita were also subject to discrimination. There was a high concentration of Hispanics in Wichita due to the high demand in the railroad, meat packing, and agriculture industries. However, their life was not easy in Kansas.  

Hispanics living in Wichita, Kansas, were often outcasted from society and exploited for their work. Wichita had two major meat packing plants, one being Cudahy, located in the north end of Wichita (figure 5). The meat packing plant initially opened in 1901 and immediately hired Mexican laborers [4]. Over time, the Mexican community grew, and most lived in the North End of Wichita. On the North side of Wichita, Mexicans built their own community, called barrios, and even converted rail cars into boxcar homes.[5] They tried their best to fit in by assimilating into American culture. The children and youth were often teased for speaking Spanish, so they only spoke it within their community.[6] They played American music and sports, and some even joined the military to be part of America's cultural traditions. However, since there was little mixing between the Hispanics and white Americans, they continued their American cultural traditions within their own community. In their barrios, they established their first Catholic church, Mexican festivals, and restaurants.

The restaurant Rafael bought to open Connie’s Café happened to be near the Cudahy meat packing plant. Concepción and Rafael’s vision was to open the restaurant and cater to the hungry Mexican laborers from the meat packing plant next door. However, in hopes of bringing in American customers, Concepción named the restaurant Connie’s Café. She continued to make traditional Mexican food but also created an American menu that included cheeseburgers, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets [7]. The couple’s restaurant was a success and helped expose Mexican food culture to the Americans in the community. Connie’s Café tells the story of the Mexican community in the North End and how the relationship between Americans and Mexicans has changed over time.

Connie and Rafael López frequently visited Mexico and purchased objects evocative of their homeland. Rafael passed away in 1994, and Concepción died in 2006, but their descendants continue to operate Connie’s Mexico Cafe in Wichita. Today, the Café is still open and run by Carmen with her daughters and granddaughters [8].

Spanish Translation/Traducción en Español

Connies México Café es el restaurante mexicano más antiguo de Wichita dirigido por una familia. En el 1963, Concepción y Rafael López abrieron Connie’s Cafe. Los dos nacieron en México, Rafael en el estado de Nuevo León y Concepción en Jalisco. Los dos se criaron en un período tumultuoso en la historia de México. Al norte de la frontera en México, la economía estaba en su apogeo y había demanda de labradores. Algunas industrias estadounidenses, particularmente, las industrias de ferrocarriles necesitaban empleados y activamente reclutaban inmigrantes mexicanos. Más de la mitad se asentaron en las áreas urbanas del estado incluyendo Wichita, en donde trabajaron para las industrias de ferrocarriles o industrias de carnicería. Concepción y Rafael López fueron una excepción, dado a que se mudaron a Kansas por razones distintas. Se conocieron y se casaron en Tejas, donde nació su hijo único. Rafael se enlistó al ejército estadounidense en el 1943 y participó en la segunda guerra mundial. Después de la guerra, la familia López visitó la ciudad de Wichita por primera vez y se enamoraron de la ciudad. Concepción consiguió trabajo como una trabajadora doméstica y disfrutaba cocinar en recaudaciones de fondos. Después, la semilla de abrir un restaurante se sembró en la mente de Rafael. Se enteró de un restaurante a la venta al principio de la década de 1960 y se lo compró a Concepción. El edificio estaba localizado al norte de la ciudad en una área industrial cerca de las carnicerías repletas de trabajadores hambrientos. En el 1963, la familia López abrió el restaurante llamándolo Connie’s para atraer una clientela americana. Sin embargo, la comida siempre fue mexicana. 

Connie y Rafael visitaban a México con frecuencia y compraban varios objetos evocativos de su patria. Rafael falleció en el 1994 y Concepción falleció en el 2006, pero sus descendientes continúan manejando Connie’s Mexico Cafe en Wichita. 

[1] “Mexican Americans in Kansas.” Kansas Historical Society. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[2] “Connie's Mexico Cafe.” Kansas Historical Society. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[3] “Background on the Chicano Movement.” Facing History and Ourselves. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[4] “Growth of the North End.” Growth. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[5] Mendoza, Anita., Price, Jay. Mexican Americans of Wichita's North End. United States: Arcadia Publishing, 2022, 24.

[6] “Growth of the North End.” Growth. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[7] “Our Story.” Connie's Mexico Cafe. Accessed December 9, 2022.

[8] “Our Story.” Connie's Mexico Cafe. Accessed December 9, 2022.