Ozarks Life: The American Dream in Cabool

Mercedes Muñoz has shared her Mexican cuisine for 48 years on Main Street.
Published: Aug. 11, 2023 at 10:31 AM CDT
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CABOOL, Mo. (KY3) - On Main Street in Cabool, there’s been a mainstay for almost fifty years.

Mercedes Muñoz opened the El Imperial restaurant in 1975.

“No,” Mercedes answered on the phone on Thursday. “I’m sorry, we’re closed.”

She’s had a lot of that this week. Calls for take out and devoted patrons coming in to say thank-you and goodbye. There’s a lot to miss when you close down.

“Definitely the people,” Mercedes said that she will miss most. “I have no problem with the public; beautiful people.”

Mercedes put her heart and soul and salsa into El Imperial for 48 years.

“All of my siblings, when we have come (it’s El Imperial), we were raised here,” Mercedes said Dolores Coble said. “So when we come back home; this is home.”.

But on this day, knickknacks and not her favorite chimichangas fill the tables at lunch hour. After years of making food for others, retirement is Mercedes’ dessert.

he deserves to take care of herself

“I don’t know what’s life without work,” Mercedes said. “So I have to learn how to deal with my new life.”

You see, Mercedes has been working almost every day since she came to the United States as a teenager. The opportunity to make money that she could send home to her parents and siblings in Mexico.

“I came here by myself,” Mercedes said, “and you just want to get a little bit of land of opportunity.”

Then one day in Las Vegas:

“I met this handsome, good-looking man,” Mercedes said. “He was in the Air Force. So he brought me (to Cabool).”

But something was missing while tending to a farm outside of town.

“I’m a people person. I’m not a farm-type girl. So this is what I say, ‘I got to be with people.’”

And that’s how this restaurant was born.

“I think if you have a dream, it takes a lot of hard work,” Dolores said. “And you have to put that work in. But over time, you will reach your dream which is what she’s done through years and years.”

And for years, she’s taken care of others. Whether customers or employees.

“So many generations have come through,” Dolores said. “And they’ve learned all about family. They learned how to work, and they learned how to love.”

“I’ve been loving it for the last 48 years here in this beautiful place,” Mercedes said.

Mercedes has been very touched by all of the comments on the El Imperial Facebook page.

Mercedes’ daughter, Dolores, followed in her mom’s footsteps opening a restaurant called Mama Loca’s Cafe in Ash Grove.

As for Cabool, Mercedes says a new restaurant is planning on taking over the building. That makes her happy knowing her customers will still have a place to go to get Mexican food.

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