Although many Latinos arrived in the Yakima Valley because of agricultural jobs, some of them soon started their own businesses. In fact, some Latino business owners had been farmers themselves, while others were experienced and skilled orchardists or hotel workers, and familiar with retail sales and restaurant work. Salvador Villegas opened the Mexicali Café on First Street in Wapato in 1942. Other Latino-owned restaurants followed, such as El Paso in Toppenish and Mendez Café located in Sunnyside.
Before they opened El Ranchito, T. W. and Elsie Clark sold food to workers at labor camps. Elsie began making El Ranchito tortillas, the most popular brand in the Valley for many years. In 1951, the Clarks recognized the growing Latino consumer market and established El Ranchito in Zillah, making it one of the most important Mexican restaurants and social gathering sites in the entire Valley. El Ranchito acquired an unmatched reputation for cooking some of the best “barbacoa” (from which the word “barbeque” derives) meat and baking the finest “pan dulce” (Mexican sweet bread) in the Pacific Northwest. Travelers made El Ranchito a must-stop place to eat and relax. Featuring a rustic Mexican interior with colorful piñatas and imported pottery, visitors were further entertained by a small collection of colorful parrots and inquisitive monkeys. These tropical animals were an amazing curiosity against the far duller local fauna.
Early on, El Ranchito became a cultural retreat, welcoming local families to gather after Sunday church for Mexican music and to eat simple but freshly prepared dishes of menudo, tacos, and enchiladas. At the time, El Ranchito distributed its tortillas and other Mexican products, such as spices and chorizo, to food stores throughout the Valley and the Pacific Northwest. For these reasons, plus its mid-Valley location, El Ranchito became a landmark restaurant, “tortilleria,” and “panaderia” (bakery). Amidst an otherwise alien cultural environment, El Ranchito provided a welcome and comfortable oasis for many Latino families and their friends, where Mexican food and the Spanish language dominated.