Mario Mercado, 46, takes a moment to himself while waiting for customers at Mi Camino Real, the restaurant he has managed for 20 years in Leitchfield. “We are the first ones,” Mario says. “It was a little different for them (Leitchfield residents). We are all friends now. I feel like a celebrity. In a place like this, you get to know people.”
Mario’s cellphone displays a family photograph of his brother, El Camino Real owner Alex Mercado, 43. “He always saved his money,” says Mario, who manages the restaurant for his brother.
Eddie Cortez Erik Ortiz, 19, carries a load of freshly washed dishes during the dinner rush at Mi Camino Real. Eddie is one of 12 Mexican immigrants employed at the restaurant.
Mario (from left) discusses the restaurant’s inventory with waiters Jose Eduardo Contreras, 25, and Miguel Angel Rodriguez, 28. The cost of produce and meat has increased significantly recently, leaving the restaurant struggling to keep prices from increasing. “I was losing money on chicken,” Mario says. “This is a small town. There is not much industry so we can’t raise prices like crazy.”
Cook Vidal Contreras, 45, speaks to his wife, Blasinda, 42, who lives in Mexico, on a video call during a lull in business. It has been three years since the two last saw one another in person.
Michael Wilson, 57, gives Mario hot peppers he grew on his property from his pickup truck parked behind Mi Camino Real. Mario accepted two large plants laden with peppers. He said they were probably too spicy to be served in the restaurant.
Mario embraces his son Rio Mercado, 10, as they watch his youngest son, Kylo Mercado, 7, take part in an activity during a Halloween celebration at Caneyville Elementary School. “Kids, they are amazing,” Mario says. “I love kids. It gives you the energy to keep going, knowing you are doing something good.”
Waiter Eddie Contreras, 41, sticks a bowl of whipped cream in the face of Denny Bealow to celebrate his 54th birthday as Mario (from left), Jose Eduardo Contreras, 25, and Miguel Angel Rodriguez, 28, watch with Chris Collins, 33, (seated at far left). Bealow, a 13-year employee of New York Blower and a Leitchfield resident, was celebrating his birthday for a third time at Mi Camino Real. Bealow says the colorful atmosphere and food keep him coming back.
Mario gives Rio a hug while he holds Kylo’s hand as the three walk into Caneyville Elementary School for Rio’s academic team meeting. Rio has read 47 books this school year. “I am just really good at it,” Rio says. “I like big books because it takes longer for them to end, especially because I like the story.”
Another day comes to an end at Mi Camino Real. Located at 208 W. White Oak St. on one of Leitchfield’s main thoroughfares. “Everybody knows us,” Mario says.