Daughter provides background on old restaurant

       Responding to a request for more information from the Westside Pioneer, Carmen Grande, the daughter of Henri and Ventura Ruiz, contacted the paper after the June 14 issue. Ventura Ruiz is shown at about age 20 (in the year 1930) when she was performing Mexican folk songs in Colorado Springs.
Courtesy of Carmen Grande
       An article that issue had described the opening of the new Henri's by Jorge's restaurant at 2427 W. Colorado Ave. in Old Colorado City. Accom-panying the article was a photo of a mural titled “The General” on the outside wall of the restaurant (since painted over), and a caption asking if anyone knew if it represented Henri himself.
       Grande explained “The General” mural indeed was a representation of her father, who good-naturedly called himself that during the many years that Henri's was a popular Mexican restaurant in the same location. The mural had been created about 10 years ago by a close friend (now deceased) named Priscilla Adams.
       Henri Ruiz had already passed on by then. He died of a heart attack at age 70 shortly after the restaurant closed one night in early 1981. Ventura still lives in Colorado Springs and will be 97 in July. She wishes the Jorge's owners well, Grande said.
       In all, Henri's operated from 1946 until 2006. The Ruiz family ran it until 2001. Their original location, from '46 to '51, was in a since-demolished building at Colorado Avenue at Antlers Place, across the street from the Cotton Club. After a brief but praised association with the Patty Jewett Golf Course restaurant, Ventura and Henri opened Henri's at the Old Colorado City location later in 1951.
       Although the restaurant was named for her father, Grande pointed out that the cook was actually her mother. She typically prepared every customer's meal during lunch and dinner. Her cooking background went back another generation. According to Grande, Ventura learned her recipes from her mother Maria, who legally immigrated to the United States with her then-10-year-old daughter in about 1920 after the Mexican Revolution.
       Grande proudly reported that Ventura Ruiz taught herself English to the point where she could speak it without an accent.
       During her early 20s, she performed in the area, singing Mexican folk songs while accompanying herself on guitar. In so doing, she came to know several prominent area citizens, including Spencer and Julie Penrose.
       In fact, Grande credited the Penroses for triggering the restaurant idea. They asked Ventura if she knew anybody who could cook. She said she could, and when she cooked for them they were impressed. After she did so several times, “they said you don't need to come to us, we'll come to you,” Grande recounted.
       Her parents' talents meshed well together. He was good with people and built a solid business reputation; he also was known for making terrific margaritas.
       The Ruizes chose Old Colorado City mainly because the location was affordable, Grande said. The area was a little dangerous at that time. “Cops walked the street with a billy club. It was the wild West here.”
       The original restaurant (in the site of a former café) was smaller. Her parents expanded to the east in the 1950s, then to the west in the 1960s, to create the space that is there today.
       The murals inside the main dining area - which Jorge's has left up for now - were painted by Grande's uncle, Emilio Velasquez, in 1966-67. Grande takes some credit for the work. She'd made a comment that the walls weren't interesting enough, she said.
       The restaurant did not do as well after her father's death, Grande said. Her mother stopped cooking about a year later. There was also a drop in trade that could be attributed to the city growth to the east (making the restaurant less centrally located) and the increasing availability of cheap Mexican food, she believes.

Westside Pioneer article