As you enter Azteca Restaurant and Bakery, you can hear traditional Mexican music mixed with the laughter of workers and customers alike. Let your eyes travel to the back of the restaurant, and you’ll see a wall of fresh pastries. As you approach the register, you’ll be met with homemade tortillas packaged up and begging to be eaten.
Rebeca Gephart, the owner of Azteca, prides her restaurant on being family-owned with employees who have become family. It is a place where the employees come in to visit on their days off and regular customers joke with the employees when they walk in.
As the lunch rush passes, Mauro Leon, who has been the chef at Azteca for more than 23 years, prepares lunch for himself and some of the other workers. They sit together to eat and share the tale of this thriving family business.
Azteca Restaurant and Bakery, located on Seventh Avenue near Taylor Street, has worked to stay true to its authentic Mexican roots, which date back to 1957.
That year, Gephart’s father, Bernardo Lopez, opened the original Azteca on Seventh and Mohave streets. In 1972, the restaurant moved to a space on 16th Street and Buckeye Road, which the city of Phoenix later bought for an expansion of Sky Harbor International Airport. Azteca then relocated to its current location, where it has been in operation for three decades.
Gephart recalled that her father “had a very entrepreneurial mind.” Azteca was passed down to Gephart and her brother, who focus on keeping the food true to the way it was when the restaurant first opened.
Gephart said the restaurant uses “very traditional Mexican recipes.” What sets Azteca apart from other Mexican cuisine is the way the food is prepared. The ingredients are always fresh, with no preservatives, and the restaurant uses real corn in the homemade tortillas it makes.
Despite its traditional values, the restaurant has changed with the times in some regards.
“The bakery has always evolved,” Gephart said. While she keeps the same recipes her father used, the baking is now done at another facility that focuses strictly on production. The breads are shipped to numerous stores and restaurants in Arizona and California.
In these traditional bread goods are what Gephart calls some of the staples of Mexican cuisine: fresh eggs, Mexican vanilla, star anise and cinnamon bits for maximum flavor.
Gephart said she has seen an increase in students who visit the restaurant, and is looking into expanding her restaurant to include more seating. She is confident in her dream of growing Azteca into something more than a restaurant and bakery. She hopes to add a deli and grocery store that will stay true to Azteca’s commitment to fresh food.
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