As of Friday night at 8:30, Casillas Restaurant in Bridgeport is closed – ending nearly a century of service.
Martin Casilla, Jr. and his wife, Mary Helen, have owned and operated the popular Mexican restaurant for the last nine years, taking over and renovating it after Martin’s grandmother died.
“We just felt like it was time,” Martin said. “We felt like we wanted to retire while we still had the ability to.”
Martin, known as “Marty” to his staff and the customers that frequent the restaurant, is now in his 70s. He remembers when older generations would come to his grandmother’s restaurant, in a small house in what is now the back corner of the restaurant as it stands today.
A lot of customers have passed through the doors at Casillas since it opened, and nearly all of them are sad to see those doors close.
“Oh, they’ve been feeding me all of my life, and now that they’re closing, I don’t know where I’m going to go for Mexican food,” Bridgeport resident Juan Mercer said. “It’s good, home-cooked food and it doesn’t have a fake taste to it.”
Throughout their last day of business, the doors opened and closed with customers telling the husband-and-wife duo how much they would miss eating at Casillas.
None of them are sadder to see the restaurant go than Marty and Mary Helen.
“I’ve been crying off and on for about two weeks, every time we see someone who asks about the restaurant, so I’m a bit emotional about the whole thing,” Mary Helen said. “We’ve met so many great people, and our customers are just the best. But, we figured now would be as good a time as any to retire.”
The couple said they tried to get their children or grandchildren to take over the restaurant, but “they already have jobs, with vacation and benefits and everything,” Marty said. “And I don’t blame them, because you really do have to love working at a restaurant to work here.
“It’s a calling. And we’re not hurting for money, either – we’re still profitable – but we just figured we should retire while we still could. My dad, he worked here until he was 82. We want to take some time off.”
Mary Helen added that they are looking at selling, and there have been some offers. But she doesn’t want the Casillas name to stay if the restaurant gets new owners.
“I wouldn’t want people who were used to our food to come here and not get what they were used to, without our recipes and everything. So we’ll see what happens.”
“It’s sad to see it go, but it’s time,” Marty said.