Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca, has died

Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant and a fixture on the East Austin scene for decades, has died at home, his grandson, Juan Guerra, has confirmed. He was 85.

Jorge Guerra, longtime owner of El Azteca restaurant. Contributed by Lonnie Limon

The elder Guerra opened his restaurant 3 p.m. May 10, 1963. He closed it last year due to family health care costs, rising property taxes and a drop in sales during two years of street work on East Seventh Street. His wife of 61 years, Ninfa Guerra, died after a long illness on March 28.

RELATED: The story behind El Azteca restaurant.

During El Azteca’s 53 years of operation, the spot was among the first of its kind to go beyond enchiladas, tacos and beans. Locally, Guerra popularized, among other things, cabrito and Mexican beers such as Corona, Carta Blanca, Bohemia, Tecate, Dos Equis and Negra Modelo. He also introduced colorful calendars that celebrated Aztec culture.

Yet the outspoken Guerra was also a community leader, who crusading to fix East Austin flooding, roadwork, safety and services.

“His civic engagement and political participation in his community was always a part of El Azteca,” former Austin City Council Member Mike Martinez said in a 2016 interview. “He challenged me on numerous occasions to think about things from a different perspective. We didn’t always agree, but I surely did respect his service to our country and our community.”

“Mr. Guerra was a key leader for the people of East Austin back in the day, especially in the Zaragoza and Govalle neighborhoods,” says advertising executive and community historian Lonnie Limón said in 2016. “He got things done because he was fearless and determined.

Born Monterrey, Nuevo León in 1932, Guerra came to this country with visa on Nov. 23, 1953. He had worked in his uncle’s restaurant in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, when folks crossed the international border several times a day.

As a U.S. Marine, he was stationed in Japan and South Korea. In 1955, he married Ninfa Guerra and they had two boys and two girls. A year after opening El Azteca, they bought a house at Linden and Lyons streets where they lived for years.

Family took priority, although that often meant working from morning to midnight seven days a week. This and diabetes eventually took its toll on Guerra’s wife, who spent her last years in rehabilitation.

“Opening El Azteca was a matter of survival,” he told this newspaper last year. “I don’t know how the name came to me. I thad to be something that belongs to anyone who wants to respect the culture. It is a name to be honored and respected.”

This is a developing story. Check back for more details.