CLAYCOMO, Mo. — The Barrera family has owned and operated El Sombrero in Claycomo for 56 years, and not much has changed at the beloved Mexican restaurant.
That's part of its charm and a reason the community loves the restaurant, which is nestled along U.S. 69 in the Northland.
Unfortunately, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Barreras don’t know if they’ll ever reopen after Saturday.
On Thursday, the phone rang non-stop. Everyone was ordering their usual, and everyone was asking to talk with owner Larry Barrera.
He was busy in the kitchen, packaging up food for people who'd normally be eating in the dining room.
To-go orders were stacked on the tables, his staff running bags out to cars in the parking lot.
There was an almost hourlong wait at 2 p.m.
"People are doing wonderful things for me," Larry said. "They’re trying to keep me in business, and the reality is that I don’t know if we’ll be able to come back. It’s a when-or-if type of situation."
Saturday will be El Sombrero's last day, at least for a while, which is a tough pill for some loyal customers to swallow.
"It’s like you're family," one of those customers, Ron Covell, said. "They treat us all like family."
His friend, Johnny Neil, agreed, "They really do. They come out and talk to you and it's like going to your grandma's house for dinner."
The dining room still has the same brown wall paneling, decorated with Mexican memorabilia and pictures of the big Barrera family.
Manuel and Lorraine Barrera opened the restaurant in 1964 as Manuel juggled two other jobs.
Lorraine did the same while also caring for six kids, five boys and one girl.
Larry started helping out at the restaurant with a reputation for hard work and tradition when he was 10. He has worked there ever since and his sister, Jeannie, works alongside him.
Manuel and Lorraine were beloved in the community.
"In all the years I've worked here, I've tried to be like both of them," Larry said.
He's served on city committees, on the Claycomo Board of Trustees and was a member of the local Lion's Club. EL Sombrero has sponsored countless children's sports teams through the years.
Even as the end possibly approaches, Larry continues to toil alongside his coworkers, who have become like family, every day.
It's a bittersweet commitment to the community he plans to keep right to the end.
"When you have 56 years into a business, it’s very hard to think that you may not be here to see the same beautiful people that have made you who you are," Larry said.