Felipe Castañeda and his wife Lisbet are natives of the small ranching town of Tepechitlan, Zacatecas, an area with a proud culinary history that borders Jalisco’s famous Tequila region. Since opening El Mirasol Cocina Mexicana in the Spring of 1985, the Castañedas have seen their tiny original restaurant grow into two busy Palm Springs locations: El Mirasol South and El Mirasol at the Los Arboles Hotel. El Mirasol South is still in the original location they opened in 1985. The restaurant is a landmark in Palm Springs and enjoys a bustling atmosphere, small bar and outside tables on East Palm Canyon Drive. The newest El Mirasol at the Los Arboles Hotel features a lush garden patio setting and an expanded bar area.
KB: El Mirasol has been part of Palm Springs for 28 years. What prompted you and your wife Lisbet to open a restaurant back in 1985?
Felipe Castañeda: I grew up in the shadow of my father, helping him to prepare fresh foods for his small restaurant. I was taught the value of quality ingredients, to be fair to your customers and to work hard at a very young age. There was no other path for me to choose that would have brought myself and my family the joy that opening El Mirasol did in 1985.
KB: And then in 2008, you bought the Los Arboles Hotel—remodeling the entire 1938 property—and included the new El Mirasol location as part of the experience. How has the leap been from restaurateur to hotelier?
FC: When we bought Los Arboles, it was a run down, falling apart property that we didn’t know what to do with! We bought the property in 1999 and put it into mothballs for 8 years before construction and renovation began in 2008. It took three years to completely remake the property, but it was well worth the investment. We are very proud of our new hotel and our customers seem pleased too! You might find it funny to know that Lisbet and I thought that running a hotel couldn’t be too much different from running our restaurants, but we soon found that it’s a completely different animal. Luckily, we surrounded ourselves with great people—experts in their field—and we soon had the entire operation up and running.
KB: I understand your next project is a catering division for both on-site and off-site event catering? Tell me more about that—why the decision to open a catering division, and what will your specialty or focus be?
FC: We have built a loyal and wonderful client base at the restaurants and they continually asked us to cater for them. We found that we were catering but with no real rhyme or reason. So last year we decided to create a catering menu and to open this new division so that the same great, quality that we put out every single day in our restaurants are now available to our catering guests as well. Currently we are capable of catering parties of 20 to 125, but soon we’ll be able to handle almost any size of event.
KB: I’ve long enjoyed dining at the original El Mirasol, and my favorite dish is your chicken mole. I know that Mexican food traditions go back for generations in your family. Is this an old family recipe?
FC: Ah, that’s a family secret that’s well known! I will also tell you this…every single recipe that we use is from our family. Each has a little of my family or Lisbet’s family tree in it. We are committed to keeping our family food traditions alive through our restaurants for generations to come!
KB: Both your restaurants are known for their welcoming hospitality and passion for traditional Mexican flavors and wholesome ingredients. What are your favorite dishes, or is that like naming a favorite child?
FC: Funny! Every dish is my favorite!
KB: A family business has its own unique dynamics. What’s been your experience in creating a thriving restaurant business alongside your wife, Lisbet (co-owner and co-founder of El Mirasol)?
>FC: Lisbet and I are a team. We have created a beautiful family together and a business that we are very proud of. Whoever said that working with your wife was not fun, has never worked with Lisbet! She is my inspiration!
KB: What’s your restaurant philosophy—your mission statement?
FC: Simply put: We strive to deliver wholesome, handmade, delicious foods to every customer every day. Nothing more needs to be said I think.
KB: Tell me more about your background—is it true that when you immigrated to the US, you taught yourself English by listening to popular music?
FC: “The Beatles” and the “I Love Lucy” television series…I will always be indebted to both of them!
KB: What made you decide to settle in Palm Springs?
FC: I was working in LA and as much fun as LA is, it was a little too fast-paced for this Mexican native. I was drawn to the desert and to its warm temperatures and welcoming people. I have never regretted that decision.
KB: When you’re not busy transforming the dining experiences of Greater Palm Springs, what do you and Lisbet enjoy doing in your spare time?
FC: Spare time?? I’m laughing because our time is given gratefully to our children and our business. Both bring more joy to our lives that we deserve. I’m a simple man with simple tastes. My life is perfect!
KB: Felipe Castañeda, what do you love most about Palm Springs?
FC: Absolutely all of it! The great people that live, work and call this town home. I’m in debt to each and every one of our residents for giving me the opportunity to build my business, to raise my children and to enjoy life in this paradise. Thank you!